Magna Carta

In Parliament - Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Mr DULUK (Davenport) (15:31:00): I rise today to celebrate this week being the 800th anniversary of King John, under duress of the English barons, putting his royal seal on Magna Carta. John is said to be one of the worst kings that England has ever had. He was cruel, disloyal, dishonest and prone to violent rages. His disloyalty to his subjects was the worst trait in my opinion. Those who do not give loyalty cannot ever expect to receive it in return. English monk Matthew Paris in 1235 wrote of King John: 'Foul as it is, hell itself is defiled by the fouler presence of John.'

So how did such a bad king come to be associated with such a great document? British member of the European parliament, Daniel Hannan MEP, described the Magna Carta as the Torah of the English-speaking people. To quote Hannan, it is 'the text that sets us apart while, at the same time, speaking universal truths to the human race'.History teaches us that the most important lesson from Magna Carta is that the executive must be restrained by law. In Latin, the saying, 'rex lex' meant 'The King is the law.' Until Magna Carta, this was the case throughout England. The King had unfettered power to do whatever he liked with any person's life, liberty or property. Magna Carta had the effect of reversing this, so that the Latin became 'lex rex', 'The law is king.' The rule of law is what separated England from her continental peers and allowed her to grow.

From the rule of law, all other rights have flowed. Once you establish that the king himself, the most powerful man in the land, cannot do whatever he wishes, but must respect contracts that he has signed and agreed to be bound by in his dealings, then from that flows freedoms such as the non-arbitrary use of power, habeas corpus and the right to trial by jury.

Importantly, when the barons cornered John at Runnymede they made it clear that what they requested in Magna Carta were not new rights, but ancient liberties that all Englishmen held as their birthright. Liberty is not something distributed from above by a government or a human rights commission. As Thomas Jefferson put it:

Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add 'within the limits of the law' because the law is often the tyrant's will and always so when it violates the rights of the individual.

I believe the most important clause from Magna Carta is clause 39, which states:

No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled or deprived of his standing in any way, nor will we proceed with force against him or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land.

'Lawful judgement of his equals', and especially 'the law of the land', are the beautiful expressions which sum up how the jury system and the law operates, not only in this country, but in all English speaking countries. The law of the land is not what the government arbitrarily decides it is on a particular day. It is a greater force than any one person or judge, and it is one of our strongest safeguards against tyranny. The common law as it has built up over centuries of case after case is a stronger guard of liberty than any code or human rights declaration that can be found in any other legal system. The jury system is another essential part of Magna Carta. Placing legal power in the hands of ordinary people in the form of juries is the greatest embodiment of the trust and high regard that we can place on our society.

I have touched a bit on what Magna Carta has meant to the past and I would like to end on what is really important—and that is, of course, the future. The price of liberty is eternal vigilance so, as members of this parliament, we are the guardians of liberty and must be watchful and stop those who come into this place and little by little erode the liberty of South Australians.

The bossy nanny staters of those opposite are the great danger to freedom in South Australian society today. Whether it is by borrowing billions which they never intend to repay, increasing the burden of state taxation to the highest levels in the nation, selling public land and assets without proper tender process or by introducing laws which trample over the fundamentals of liberty—the list goes on—it is clear that the Labor Party in this state is an anathema to liberty.