After 800 years the Magna Carta still has relevance and influence in modern society, according to criminal lawyer Bill Potts.
Speaking to Clare Blake on 4BC Afternoons, Mr Potts said the Magna Carta set out protections and legal safegaurds for land owners and artistocracy in 13th century England.
“It was set up as a document where the barons, basically the land owners, were forcing the king to give them rights.”
It didn’t apply to the serfs, the peasants, the ordinary folk like you and I, but it was something which in effect has become the cornerstone of great democratic fundamentals, even in Australia.”
Despite its enduring legacy, the Magna Carta got off to a bad start.
Just eight weeks after it was sealed into law, King John of England repudiated the document and Pope Innocent III annulled it with both medieval leaders viewing the Magna Carta as a threat to their power.
“In those days the King could literally take your land, kill you, hold you without trial and the end effect of this was that he was an absolute ruler.”
The result was internal rebellion and war with France.
Since then the Magna Carta has been amended and revised yet its influence over the fundamental values of modern society remains timeless.
Even women received an expansion of rights under the Magna Carta, albeit small by today’s standards.
“The women, whilst not granted suffrage or rights, were no longer to be treated effectively as cattle.”
They could hold land rights, they could leave property to their children, although, of course, they had to obey their husbands.”
Nonetheless Mr Potts said the Magna Carta is ‘fundamental to our free democracy.’
“To look at it is to know that this is one of documents which has informed some of the great liberties we take for granted in Australia.”
Listen to the full interview: There’s more to the Magna Carta than meets the eye