It is an independent, politically non-partisan, not-for-profit association formed to uphold the rule of law in Australia.
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It aims to promote discussion and understanding of the importance of the principles which underpin the rule of law by engaging with the community and with government. It operates a very active website, comments on bills before Parliament, writes media articles and reports, holds an annual conference on current rule of law issues and provides speakers at other conferences and meetings. I acknowledge the presence here of two pivotal players in the institute's development, Robin Speed and Richard Gilbert.
Importantly, the institute operates education programs in schools, principally in New South Wales and Queensland, but occasionally elsewhere. It pursues initiatives to provide school and university students with an understanding of the importance of rule of law principles and how they relate to contemporary issues. It employs three full-time qualified teachers for these purposes. With the th anniversary of the Magna Carta of , well at least years of the idea of Magna Carta, the institute saw a crucial opportunity to reinforce those principles through the celebration of the events of that year and their legacy through the ages in so many parts of the world.
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It has featured prominently in our education programs this year and the institute's teachers have been speaking about the importance of ideas from Magna Carta in schools throughout the states that we have contacted and there are few legal studies classrooms that do not now have a poster copy of our Magna Carta hanging on the wall. We have held and supported many other events throughout the year and it is a great pleasure to be joining with the Department of the Senate to host today's symposium.
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The Senate has been an enthusiastic partner in this commemoration year. You can see that the idea of the essential characteristics of a free society, traceable back in many respects to Magna Carta, is an idea that has taken hold in all parts of the globe. I shall have the pleasure of chairing the morning session of this symposium. There will be four speakers focusing in various ways on Magna Carta and the law.
I shall introduce them in turn as they come to speak. Before I do, I would also like to draw your attention to the exhibition the Rule of Law Institute has displayed. Pay no attention to the quill pen in this one over here. The document in was never signed by a quill pen or by any other means of course; it was sealed by the king's seal.
One of our education officers, Jackie Charles, is here and she will be available to discuss any matters relating to Magna Carta that you might like to raise with her during the breaks in the course of today's proceedings. You also have a poster provided, left on your seats. It is a copy of a reproduction of the original Salisbury Cathedral Charter of Liberties of , one of the four surviving original documents.
That reproduction was made for the institute by a very talented calligrapher in Sydney, Mrs Margaret Layson, who has had the hobby of calligraphy throughout her life. She is a lady in her eighties now. She was a professional engineer and I understand the first female engineer to serve on an oil rig in the North Sea—a very interesting connection between her professional occupation and her hobby of calligraphy. Late last year she made the reproduction of the Salisbury Cathedral document in the same size and an identical reproduction.
That reproduction is presently on display in the Supreme Court of Victoria in Melbourne until the end of this month. It has been travelling around to various places for people to see. You will see from the poster that you have that there are many lines of medieval Latin script with many abbreviations in the words that are contained in it. Mrs Layson, I am told, was able to do three lines at a sitting on a table in her garage in Sydney and it took her about 40 minutes to do a line.
So a lot of work and a lot of care has gone into the reproduction. The posters that have been taken from that reproduction have some of the chapters highlighted with a short commentary at the bottom to emphasise the important ones for you. Jackie will have additional posters for you if you would like to take some extras away to give to other people. With that introduction, it is now my great pleasure to welcome the Assistant Minister for Multicultural Affairs, Senator the Hon. Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, to deliver the keynote address this morning.
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I am going to tell you something about the senator that she does not want me to tell you, so she will no doubt be squirming as I do this. We learnt just as we were beginning this morning that when she was performing in a school play which related to the Magna Carta she played one of the barons. Senator, the floor is yours. It is, of course, the centenary of Gallipoli. It is the bicentenary of Waterloo and 25 October marked the th anniversary of another great English victory at the expense of the French: the Battle of Agincourt. It is also the th anniversary of William Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England , a seminal treatise on the common law of England.
This morning, we gather to mark the th anniversary of an event which has attained mythical status in the centuries since: the genesis of Magna Carta. As we celebrate this symbolic charter, we reflect upon how far modern society, in particular Australia, has come since the rather unremarkable day when King John affixed his seal to the Magna Carta in Runnymede, England, on 19 June In the eight hundred years that have passed, Magna Carta has provided inspiration and support for progressive developments in democratic governance worldwide.
It has been looked to symbolically as a guarantor of freedom and a regulator of arbitrary executive power:.
Simon de Montfort, 6th Earl of Leicester
Australia has inherited the traditions which have evolved through constitutional struggles abroad and has been a leader in the advancement of human rights in the modern day. Evatt, played a major role in drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
As we celebrate the 70th anniversary of the United Nations and prepare for our upcoming appearance for Australia's second Universal Periodic Review, we reflect upon Australia's strong engagement with the UN system. We are lucky to be a liberal democracy founded on the rule of law, but not all countries share this experience.
This is why Australia is seeking a seat on the UN Human Rights Council for the —20 term: to strengthen our global leadership role and to share the benefit of our strong liberal democratic traditions. We have long been a leader for global abolition of the death penalty, and would seek to use a seat on the Council to further this work.
We would also play a leadership role on five other key themes:. And so, as we commemorate the anniversary of Magna Carta and the United Nations, we also celebrate the liberal democratic principles and values that underpin our modern society—the separation of powers, representative and responsible government, the rule of law, individual liberties and the independence of the judiciary.
How, then, did a single event in English history so long ago, come to be so influential?
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We must begin with the story of the events of that day, on 15 June , when a group of aggrieved English barons rode to meet King John on a grassy stretch of meadow beside the River Thames. King John was desperate to put an end to the rebellion that had seen the city of London fall to rebel barons.
The barons, in turn, hoped to extract concessions from the king on a host of issues. The document we call Magna Carta today is considered to be both a restatement of the old laws of the English past and a treaty of peace between these rebel barons, the church, and the king. The Coronation Charter was an earlier peace treaty which set a strong precedent for further royal concessions and set a course towards modern constitutional democracy. The original Magna Carta was over 3, words and 63 clauses long.
The first clause granted liberties to the church and subsequent clauses granted liberties to 'free men', referring to a limited class of powerful elite, barons and subjects of the church at the time. While the class of 'free men' may appear narrow by today's standards, the liberties granted to them nonetheless represented a significant restriction on the power of the monarchy.
While not the only formal charter of liberties granted by a medieval monarch, Magna Carta is the most detailed and long-lasting of all such documents. Lord Denning, one of the most influential judicial minds of the twentieth century, and a favourite of all law students the world over, has said that it was 'the greatest constitutional document of all time'.
More recently, Lord Judge described Magna Carta as 'the most important single document in the development of constitutional and legal freedom and adherence to the rule of law in the common law world'. Our own former Chief Justice of Australia, Murray Gleeson, has described it as a defining document in a 'long history' of legal constraint upon 'law-making capacity'. Important though Magna Carta is, it has also been the victim of many exaggerated claims. In reality, Magna Carta was a failed treaty. It was reissued on King John's death in , then , again in and was finally made into statute law in As one of the great fathers of English legal history, Frederic Maitland, famously said, 'it is never enough to refer to Magna Carta without saying which edition you mean'.
Indeed, it was named the 'Great Charter', several years after the initial settlement, not in recognition of its importance, but because it was long. Irrespective of historical contests and differing interpretations of the significance of Magna Carta, its continuing status as a symbol of individual liberty and the supremacy of the law is a testament to its continued contemporary relevance.
Magna Carta continues to be considered by the Australian courts in cases concerning issues ranging from bankruptcy, criminal matters, and native title. While there has been some judicial disagreement as to the contemporary relevance of Magna Carta in Australia, there can be no disagreement with Justice Isaacs' observation in the High Court of Australia in , when he proclaimed Magna Carta to be 'the groundwork of all our Constitutions'.
Magna Carta's enduring relevance to Western democracy can be explained in large part by our shared constitutional heritage. From England, we have inherited history, constitutional forms and traditions and political values. And with them, a system of democratic government, the rule of law and the principle of legality. Unlike other nations, our Constitution was not drafted in the context of rebellion and revolt, but we share common roots in Magna Carta. It is some of these legacies which I would like to reflect on now. It is said that Magna Carta represented a grant of liberties to 'all free men' of the kingdom.
Magna Carta asserted that the powers of even a king ruling by divine right were still subject to some limitation and—to use a modern word—some form of accountability.
And, in doing so, it marked a fundamental change in attitudes to the Crown which, over subsequent centuries, would develop into limitations on government more broadly. In modern day Australia, this principle of accountability applies to the executive arm of government. To quote Robert Menzies:.
Indeed, Australia was one of the first countries to implement secret ballots for elections—a system that is at the core of the democratic process and system, which can be traced back to the principles embodied in Magna Carta. The legacy of Magna Carta has also been inherited by Australia through the common law and the principle of legality. The time of Magna Carta was marked by tyranny and rebellion, in which individual rights, in particular rights against the state, were not well understood.
Magna Carta was pivotal to the establishment of these rights. During the seventeenth century, perceptions of Magna Carta evolved from being a compact between the monarchy and rebel barons to an affirmation of individual liberty. Perhaps the most famous parliamentarian of the period who espoused this interpretation of the charter was Sir Edward Coke. As Attorney-General in the front line of the conflict between parliament and James I, in the early seventeenth century, Coke argued that the imposition of constraints on the king's power was consistent with notions of personal liberty.
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