“Magna Carta and the Rule of Law around the World”

King and government do not exercise absolute power but are themselves bound by law: the Magna Carta’s 800th anniversary is today. Marking the sealing of the “Great Charter of Liberties” agreed to by King John, the Cato Institute held a panel discussion June 4 featuring Richard Helmholz (U. Chicago), Roger Pilon (Cato), Tom Palmer (Atlas Network, Cato), Richard Pipes (Harvard), Swaminathan Aiyar (Cato), and Juan Carlos Botero (World Justice Project), moderated by Ilya Shapiro and Ian Vasquez (Cato).

More: Carrie-Ann Biondi, The Objective Standard (“a profound development on the road to a civilized, rights-based society… toward properly limited government.”), Sheldon Richman (a study in unintended consequences and spontaneous social evolution), Roger Pilon (“We’re back in the fields of Runnymede, importuning our government for relief from its assumption of plenary power.”), Deepak Lal (India and Hong Kong have benefited enormously from it; mainland China, Egypt, and Russia feel its lack). [Slightly edited to add new introduction.]


  • Hi,
    Interesting that only 2 of the Charter’s clauses are still in effect today, all the rest were overtaken by events.
    I should also note the King John was able to disregard Magna Carta on instructions from the Pope…
    There is also some debate about “rule of law” – can the UK executive make it up as it goes? Parliamentary supremacy doctrine suggests that the UK need not take any account of non-UK legislation (see Obiter J’s Blog about the ECHR).

    For simplicity, I’ve used UK Legislation, knowing that we have English law and Scots Law.
    Finally, in pedant mode, none of the Magna Carta were signed … Sealed!

  • Fixed now on “sealed.” I’m awfully careless this morning.

  • An interesting counterpoint on the actual value of the Magna Carta (as opposed to the general idea of limitations on government power, which I certainly don’t challenge) from Professor Tom Ginsburg in the Times today:


    The Telegraph had an article in a similar vein last year too, “The cult of Magna Carta is historical nonsense. No wonder Oliver Cromwell called it ‘Magna Farta”: http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/dominicselwood/100276672/the-cult-of-magna-carta-is-historical-nonsense-no-wonder-oliver-cromwell-called-it-magna-farta/

  • Thanks!
    It’s taken a several weeks to convince the UK papers that the documents were sealed – not signed.
    For info for those who have seen the river pageant at Runnymede, there are two other interesting monuments there:-
    One is a memorial to the WW2 aircrew who have no known grave (overlooks the meadows)
    The second is an acre given to the US for a memorial to President J F Kennedy