June 15, 2008

Magna Carta remembered

Today is the anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta at Runnymede in 1215. Most of the rights that it contained had been repealed by the 19th century, such as "No one shall be taken or imprisoned on account of the appeal of a woman concerning the death of another than her husband." However there were a few still extant, and those that had managed to last this long were the most important ones, the ones that laid the foundations of our liberty. Such as the government itself being subject to the law. The government having to govern with the consent of the governed (though only those that counted, the aristocracy, in the case of the original document). That people had the right to defend themselves and their property and what has come to be known as Habeas Corpus, mainly from the following clauses.

38. No bailiff, on his own simple assertion, shall henceforth any one to his law, without producing faithful witnesses in evidence.

39. No freeman shall be taken, or imprisoned, or disseized, or outlawed, or exiled, or in any way harmed--nor will we go upon or send upon him--save by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land.

40. To none will we sell, to none deny or delay, right or justice.

Habeas Corpus was enshrined in its own act of parliament in 1679, which meant that people could net be detained without charge for more than 24 hours. With the exception of during extreme circumstances when internment has been used: such as the World Wars. During the IRA Border Campaign of 1956 to 1951 (when they where treated as political prisoners) by Basil Brooke of the Ulster Unionist Party. Or when Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, Brian Faulkner of the Ulster Unionist Party, instigated internment in Northern Ireland as the IRAs campaign began to approach a full scale revolt. Or in 2001 when Tony Blair of the Labour party decided to intern 14 foreign nationals suspected of links to various Islamist terrorist groups that could not be deported. They where shifted to permeant house arrest without trial three years later, and are still being held.

You can still only be held for 24 hours on non-terrorist related matters, but if you have been arrested on something related to terrorism (which covers a lot) then you can be held for longer. First this was extended to 2 days, with the possibility of the Home Secretary authorising a further 5 days, a state of affairs rightly described as draconian by the drafters but one that remained in place until 2000. Since then it has just grown and grown.

Here is a graph of how the number of day that you can be held without charge for terrorist offenses has changed since Oswald Mosley was released in 1943 (yes, 1943 two years before the end of the war) including the latest proposed extension to 42 days.


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