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Do you know the law of the Magna Carta?

PUBLISHED: 12:59 20 March 2008 | UPDATED: 14:52 07 September 2010

THE British Library has launched a new campaign to tell the nation of their rights after their shocking poll revealed 45 per cent of people are clueless about the Magna Carta

Katie Davies

THE British Library has launched a new campaign to tell the nation of their rights after their shocking poll revealed 45 per cent of people are clueless about the Magna Carta.

The Euston Road institution, which owns two copies of the 800-year-old document, has launched a website explaining the document and has planned a major exhibition later this year on legal rights.

A YouGov poll revealed by the library last Thursday showed the famous legal doctrine of 1215 has been forgotten by the modern public.

Head of Medieval and Earlier Manuscripts at the library Claire Breay said: "Magna Carta is one of the most celebrated manuscripts in English history. Many misconceptions about its original purpose and content have been generated since it was granted in 1215.

"Our new website challenges these misconceptions by exploring Magna Carta's meaning, content and legacy."

Nowadays only three elements of the ancient scroll remain binding in law within the UK, but it still has a profound resonance on our world today.

The document was the first declaration of an independent justice system which was to be followed by the king and the masses.

It states: "No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled. Nor will we proceed with force against him. Except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land. To no-one will we sell, to no-one deny or delay right or justice."

Responding to the results of the poll, Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice Jack Straw MP said: "If you asked an American if they had heard of their Bill of Rights, I expect they'd tell you it was a trick question. Such is the enormous iconic value of one of their cornerstone constitutional documents.

"In contrast, many British people struggle to put their finger on one of our own defining documents, Magna Carta. In Britain we have an innate sense of rights, but they have more existed in hearts and minds and habits than in explicit understanding.

"The challenge for today is to look for a new expression of our rights and the responsibilities that go with them which is relevant for the 21st century. Magna Carta remains an epochal moment in British history, with a resonance that still lasts today."

The document in medieval Latin can be viewed on the library's website and will be on display in the exhibition Taking Liberties: The Struggle for British Freedoms and Rights from 31 October until March 2009. Other cornerstones of the development of rights in Britain will also be on display.

katie.davies@hamhigh.co.uk


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