800 Years On From The Magna Carta

Posted on: 06-11-2015 by Jessica Comerford

Magna Carta Event

800 Years On From The Magna Carta

On the 800th anniversary of what is regarded as the first step toward a democratic United Kingdom, we ask – what would a modern day Magna Carta look like?

Recently, some of us from ERS were lucky enough to attend an event held by the Political Studies Association on the Magna Carta from a 21st Century Perspective. Along with a book launch from Professor Anthony King from the University of Essex, we were also privy to a roundtable discussion boasting an impressive panel including Baroness Shirley Williams, Conservative MP David Davis, Labour MP Fabian Hamilton and Professor Cristina Leston-Bandeira from the University of Leeds.

As the Magna Carta is often cited as one of the most important constitutional documents in English democratic history, this event naturally gave us at the Electoral Reform Services a lot to mull over. This week’s blog focuses on the roundtable discussion on what a 21st Century Magna Carta would include, according to the panelists.

A modern day Magna Carta?

The Magna Carta was the first charter established with aim to limit the monarchy’s power in England, issued and signed by King John in 1215. In 2015, limiting the powers of the monarchy is no longer an issue or threat to democracy in the UK. However, this is not to say that we are not facing equally real threats that could encroach on democracy today. A discussion on the constitutional questions for the coming decade is therefore as relevant today, as it was in 1215.

Kicking off the discussion, Baroness Williams – who in her life has helped draft constitutions in Russia, Ukraine, and South Africa – outlined what she believed to be the pressing issues of constitutional relevance for the next decade. She centralised her focus on concerns around anonymity of the internet and the potential threat that holds for individuals and societies, as well as the encroachment on civil liberties by central government.

If a modern day Magna Carta were to exist it should not be one rule for some but rather a universal document for issues of individual liberty, David Davis continued on from Williams’ point. Davis – who resigned his post following a parliamentary vote that threatened to increase the time a suspect could be detained without charge from 20 to 42 days – has consistently raised the issues of civil liberties.

Echoing the views of the previous panellist’s, Fabian Hamilton – a longstanding member of the Parliamentary Select Committee on political and Constitutional Reform – claimed that “A new Magna Carta has to ensure that the state does not have unlimited powers to treat people in an inhumane way”. Only if an established written code, like the Magna Carta, was devised would it be possible to ensure no further erosion of our civil liberties could be advanced upon. Cristina Leston-Bandeira also added that the citizens of the 21st century are much more informed than ever before and so a modern day Magna Carta would have to take this into account.

100 Years of Election Experience

Openness and transparency are two areas that the roundtable highlighted as essential to protect. These principles align with Electoral Reform Services’ values, and those of democracy in general. ERS understands that transparency and engagement are major factors toward ensuring a lively and representative democratic process. This is why inclusion and engagement have and always will be areas of focus for ERS – why we have been working to create an ever growing library of Digital Democracy services.

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Building on our 15 year history of delivering electronic voting projects, this year we developed a voter information platform with supporting services designed to integrate video, social media and moderated discussion into a formal balloting context.

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