Citizens need protecting, and not only by English laws
Lawyers, scholars and citizens will gather on Monday night at the British Library to examine the iconic power of a wrinkled piece of parchment, covered with faded, semi-legible medieval script, now 800 years old. We like to think Magna Carta has this power because it represents the beginning of what we hold in common. It may be iconic for the opposite reason: because it frames fundamental disagreements and forces us to understand just how far back these disagreements run.
Its key clauses lay out the lineaments of the rule of law, but this principle divides us, because the question remains: whose law? This argument is at the heart of modern British politics. On one side, mostly, but not exclusively, conservative, are those who think Magna Carta inaugurated a tradition of freedom that is distinctively British, or should I say, English, since it is unclear if the Scots and Welsh feel their liberties flow from the same source.