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Magna Carta should inspire voters who value their rights

The 800th anniversary of Magna Carta should inspire jaded voters to go to the polls and remain an influence on government thinking long after the General Election, according to Justin Fisher, Professor of Political Science at Brunel University London.

Prof Fisher, who is chair of the university’s Magna Carta Institute, says that, taken out of its medieval context, the charter gives us a sense of the inherent rights and freedoms that enable us to exercise our voting rights even today.

Writing for the British Library, Prof Fisher said that over time Magna Carta has become a basis for democracy. Its principles of the rule of law and equality before the law have been the inspiration for declarations of human rights, from Britain’s Bill of Rights in 1689 to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted in 1948.

“Magna Carta was not as broad in scope as these. But the key is that the ideas rooted in Magna Carta were an inspiration for them,” said Prof Fisher.

“So while many clauses of Magna Carta seem irrelevant now, and indeed the vast majority are no longer on the statute book, it is not an exaggeration to suggest that Magna Carta forms the basis of the freedoms and liberties we now enjoy.”

He adds that compared to citizens of many other countries, people in Britain are rarely subjected to abuses of their human rights - a liberty first established through Magna Carta.

He added: “Magna Carta can also be seen as a foundation of accountability, of popular democracy, and even of the importance of engaged citizens. The fact that Magna Carta had precious little (if indeed anything at all) to say about these things is to miss the point.

“Historians have shown that, over time, different generations reinterpreted Magna Carta’s meaning to match the dominant ideas of their age. Democracy, for example, was not linked with the concept of liberty until at least the time of the English Civil Wars.

“Thinkers began to posit the idea that liberty under the rule of law may well depend on a wider involvement in the creation of that law. And for that to occur, institutions like Parliament would need to develop and include more citizens both as members and electors.”

The full article can be seen here. To find out more about the Magna Carta exhibition at the British Library, visit http://www.bl.uk/magna-carta