Today marks the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta, a document granted by King John of England that limited the power of the Crown. This document was fundamental in establishing the concept of the rule of law and notions of freedom and justice. Why, I hear you ask, are we interested in such an anniversary here in New Zealand? Because New Zealand was once a British colony, we inherited its laws. One clause of the Magna Carta remains on the New Zealand statute books:
‘NO freeman shall be taken or imprisoned, or be disseised of his freehold, or liberties, or free customs, or be outlawed, or exiled, or any other wise destroyed; nor will we not pass upon him, nor condemn him but by lawful judgment of his peers, or by the law of the land. We will sell to no man, we will not deny or defer to any man either justice or right.’
The Treaty of Waitangi has been described as the ‘Māori Magna Carta’.
The Magna Carta 800 Committee for New Zealand has listed on its website a series of events around the country. There’s a lot on this month, including commemorative services and lectures. In July the University of Auckland is holding a five-part lecture series. If you’re at all interested in the legacy of this important document, check out the New Zealand committee’s website and consider attending one of the events. You can also find out about the Magna Carta and its application to New Zealand on Te Ara.