Magna Carta: How relevant to Australia and Human Rights?

Magna Carta: How relevant to Australia and Human Rights?

Lecture by Gillian Triggs

Given at the Museum of Australian Democracy, on June 15, 2015

I have been asked to speak to you today about human rights in contemporary Australia, a large subject that is stimulated by our celebration of the 800th anniversary of the sealing of the Magna Carta on this day, 15 June 1215 on the river meadows of Runnymede in England.

The Charter of Liberties, or the Magna Carta as it later became known, was drafted by Stephen Langton, the Archbishop Canterbury, in an effort to end the conflict between the king and his barons. Notably, King John was probably illiterate and did not sign the document. Rather he attached his seal to it. Both the king and his Barons then swore oaths before a crowd of hundreds, the king to abide by the terms of Magna Carta and the barons to give fealty to the king.

Within nine weeks of the sealing of the Magna Carta it was annulled by Pope Innocent III. Civil war soon broke out and within a couple of years, the king was dead.

How was it that this Latin inscribed sheepskin parchment became anything more than a minor foot note in English history? Why is Magna Carta today recognized as the foundational document of English constitutional law and the symbol of liberty and freedom throughout the English-speaking world?

Sign up to get a Weekly Email from

* indicates required

Sign up for our weekly email newsletter!