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The Magna Carta Undone

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Message Karen Backman
Oct 04 2006

The Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld gang of thugs is absolutely breathtaking in its vicious rape of nearly 800 years of civilized jurisprudence.

On June 19, 1215, King John of England, under duress from the more powerful feudal lords of England, signed into law the following provisions in articles 38 and 39 of the Magna Carta:

• 38 In future no official shall place a man on trial upon his own unsupported statement, without producing credible witnesses to the truth of it.

• 39 No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgment of his equals or by the law of the land.

At that point in time, only the higher ranked lords of the land held this position of being able to face down their accusers in a court of law, but it was the beginning.

More freedoms were added in the 1620s when five knights were thrown into jail by King Charles I for not paying their taxes. The knights sued, on the basis of habeas corpus, on their right to remain free unless convicted of a crime.

King Charlie took it upon his kingly self to say that, "By golly, I'm the King and I get to toss into jail anyone I want to (unless you're a pretty wealthy sort of fellow)."

This sure sounds like the kind of thing that is happening right now, in the year 2006.

But the Parliament, comparable to our Congress, had more gumption in those days and they got mad at the King's presumption of power.

In 1628, Parliament passed the "Petition of Right" law, which restated Articles 38 and 39 of the Magna Carta and added that "writs of habeas corpus, [are] there to undergo and receive [only] as the court should order."

It was later strengthened with the "Habeas Corpus Act of 1640" and a second "Habeas Corpus Act of 1679."

The basic meaning of the 1679 law was that individuals cannot be imprisoned just because the King finds it inconvenient to have them running around, mouthing off and flipping their thumbs at his Royal Majesty. My thanks to John Hemming's weblog for so nicely compacting several centuries of jurisprudence.

All of these acts of legislative courage were undone on the historic day of Sept. 28, 2006.

On that dark day, like another dark day in September 2001, we cast off our flimsy garments of civilization and lurched back in time more than a thousand years, slack-jawed, knuckles dragging.

The concept of habeas corpus appears to have sturdy Anglo-Saxon roots and it was a brilliant stroke to foist these old laws of the land upon the descendants of the Norman usurper, William the Bastard, whose great-great-grandson John held the crown and almost all the power of England.

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The Magna Carta Undone

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