The Magna Carta is a charter agreed by King John of England at Runnymede, near Windsor, on June 15th 1215. The unpopular monarch agreed in writing to safeguard the rights, privileges and liberties of the clergy and the nobles, placing limits on the power of the crown. One of the most important rules laid out in the treaty was that no one was above the law – including the king.
The importance of the Magna Carta has, obviously, lessened over the years. However, the notion that our nation needs to be governed in a fair and just manner still stands. Furthermore, many of the laws we take for granted today were first brought about in the document; the idea that the law still applies to the monarch, that everyone should have a fair trial, and that people should not be taxed too much were all introduced in the Magna Carta. These principles have shaped our liberal democracies to be the way they are so many centuries later.
When the Runnymede Trust was founded back in 1968, the rights of our nation’s people were still not equal. By affirming the legacy of the Magna Carta, the trust’s founders were highlighting how ending racial discrimination was a further interpretation of the treaty, all the while illustrating why those principles needed further legislation, policy and social change to become a reality.
2015 also marks the 50th anniversary of the 1965 Race Relations Act – Britain’s first attempt at making the principles of the Magna Carta a reality for the country’s black and minority ethnic citizens. Further major pieces of legislation have been passed since, as recent as 2010, showing the need for governments to ensure that democratic principles are implemented. These changes are often made in response to social change and civil society pressure from ‘below’.
The Runnymede Trust is planning a major conference to commemorate the twin anniversaries of the Magna Carta and the 1965 Race Relations Act. The conference will remind us of the importance of the democratic and legal principles that were introduced 800 years ago. It will also serve to remind us of the struggles faced by people over the years, and consequently the need for further policy, civil society pressure and wider social change, to make those principles a reality for black and minority ethnic people, and indeed everyone, in 21st century Britain.
Should you wish to contact The Runnymede Trust, you can call 020 7377 9222. (01,02 & 03 numbers, are charged at local rates from both landline and mobile phones, and are included within your allowance from a mobile phone.)