Shami Chakrabati in the Indie on Sunday
“If the House of Lords doesn’t stand up for the Magna Carta, then it’s hard to know what the Magna Carta is for.”
Don’t worry Shami, those Barons won’t let you down.
Of course, David Davis’ resignation speech:
‘This Sunday is the anniversary of Magna Carta, a document that guarantees the fundamental element of British freedom, habeas corpus. The right not to be imprisoned by the state without charge or reason.’
Tony Benn: “I never thought I would be in the House of Commons on the day Magna Carta was repealed”.
Predictably, a whole load of journalists and politicians have been trotting out well-worn cliches concerning the threat to ‘habeus corpus, the idea born in Magna Carta which has inspired every democracy that ever existed.’ (sic.)
I don’t think anyone has put the *actual* content of Magna Carta better than Seller and Yeatman in 1066 And All That:
Magna Carta simply guarantees that ‘due process’ will be followed. If due process involves banging people up for 42 days without charge, that’s fine. Whether this contravenes the HRA is another matter, but given the nature of British law, either way it won’t formally annul a new counter-terrorism act.
Likewise Habeas Corpus, which was not enshrined in Magna Carta but is a piece of late medieval law finally codified in the 1679 Habeas Corpus Act. Writs of Habeas Corpus only demanded that the lawfulness of the prisoner’s detention be examined. Hence, though such writs could notionally have been used during, say, the periods of internment during the First and Second World Wars, they would have been legally useless because of the terms of the Defence of the Realm Acts. The same will apply to the counter-terrorism bill, should it come into force.
I’ve blathered on about all this before. Yes, the counter-terrorism bill is a terrible piece of legislation, but it signifies less a devil-may-care attitude to our civil liberties (though that, of course, is wholly evident) and more the very limited nature of ‘British liberty’ itself.