The TRUTH about Article 61 of Magna Carta

Yesterday someone posted on Twitter the following (now deleted) tweet.

Another (also now deleted) tweet linked to a video of what seemed to have been an exchange between a person called Brad and the police, in which Brad sought to rely on his rights under Magna Carta.

The video is still available on Facebook and is worth watching in full.

 

A quick internet search also reveals sites like this one purporting to set out your rights under Article 61 of Magna Carta.

And on Twitter there are still tweets such as this.

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Is this true?

Is there a right of lawful rebellion under Article 61 of Magna Carta?

Does displaying Article 61 of Magna Carta in a shop window mean you cannot be fined or closed?

Let us find out.

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Magna Carta is Latin for ‘the Great Charter’, a legal document written in Latin that first came into existence in 1215.

(By convention, and because it was originally in Latin, the ‘the’ is often missed out in the title by historians and lawyers when discussing Magna Carta, which I find amusing but is really not at all significant.)

An English translation of this Magna Carta is at the British Library website.

You will see this original Magna Carta is divided into numbered sections (known to historians and lawyers as chapters, not ‘Articles’).

At Chapter 61 is the following:

SINCE WE HAVE GRANTED ALL THESE THINGS for God, for the better ordering of our kingdom, and to allay the discord that has arisen between us and our barons, and since we desire that they shall be enjoyed in their entirety, with lasting strength, for ever, we give and grant to the barons the following security:

The barons shall elect twenty-five of their number to keep, and cause to be observed with all their might, the peace and liberties granted and confirmed to them by this charter.

If we, our chief justice, our officials, or any of our servants offend in any respect against any man, or transgress any of the articles of the peace or of this security, and the offence is made known to four of the said twenty-five barons, they shall come to us – or in our absence from the kingdom to the chief justice – to declare it and claim immediate redress. If we, or in our absence abroad the chief justice, make no redress within forty days, reckoning from the day on which the offence was declared to us or to him, the four barons shall refer the matter to the rest of the twenty-five barons, who may distrain upon and assail us in every way possible, with the support of the whole community of the land, by seizing our castles, lands, possessions, or anything else saving only our own person and those of the queen and our children, until they have secured such redress as they have determined upon. Having secured the redress, they may then resume their normal obedience to us.

Any man who so desires may take an oath to obey the commands of the twenty-five barons for the achievement of these ends, and to join with them in assailing us to the utmost of his power. We give public and free permission to take this oath to any man who so desires, and at no time will we prohibit any man from taking it. Indeed, we will compel any of our subjects who are unwilling to take it to swear it at our command.

If one of the twenty-five barons dies or leaves the country, or is prevented in any other way from discharging his duties, the rest of them shall choose another baron in his place, at their discretion, who shall be duly sworn in as they were.

In the event of disagreement among the twenty-five barons on any matter referred to them for decision, the verdict of the majority present shall have the same validity as a unanimous verdict of the whole twenty-five, whether these were all present or some of those summoned were unwilling or unable to appear.

The twenty-five barons shall swear to obey all the above articles faithfully, and shall cause them to be obeyed by others to the best of their power.

We will not seek to procure from anyone, either by our own efforts or those of a third party, anything by which any part of these concessions or liberties might be revoked or diminished. Should such a thing be procured, it shall be null and void and we will at no time make use of it, either ourselves or through a third party.

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You will see that the phrase ‘lawful rebellion’ does not appear in Chapter 61, and neither is there anything which provides that if Magna Carta is displayed it renders a person or business immune from closure or fines.

The provisions is instead what is called a ‘security’ provision, setting out how the rights under Magna Carta could be practically secured and enforced.

If you read the provision you will see that the rights and powers of security are given to twenty-five barons (elected by other barons).

There is nothing in the provision to support the claims made on its behalf by the social media posts set out above.

If you do not believe this, read the provision for yourself.

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But even if the original text of chapter 61 of Magna Carta had provided for lawful rebellion, or that the mere display of Magna Carta in a shop window would be enough to ward off law enforcement officials, the provision was removed within a year, when Magna Carta was reissued in 1216.

(It was reissued and amended many times.)

There is no sensible explanation for why a provision that was only in force 1215 to 1216 (and then only granted a power to 25 barons) would have the effect in 2020 of preventing a shop being closed under public health regulations if Magna Carta was placed in a shop window.

And that is the truth about Article 61 of Magna Carta.

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There is, however, a serious point to be made about the various claims made about ancient legal documents, such as Magna Carta or the Bill of Rights.

There is not a strong tradition of ‘constitutionalism’ in England, and in the United Kingdom we do not have a portable and accessible document we can point and say ‘this is our constitution’.

And in the absence of a widely shared knowledge of the constitution, claims about Magna Carta, the rights of freemen of the land, and so on, become popular but unchecked.

As a matter of law and history, Magna Carta is now little more than a legal ornament rather than a living instrument, and it is rarely if ever successfully relied on in practice.

It is a legal text which politicians and others can praise safely, as it provides no real protections.

(In contrast, legal texts that do actually provide practical rights such as the Human Rights Act 1998 are  often attacked by those same politicians.)

Some of Magna Carta is still in force, in its 1297 reissue, and you can see these provisions on the official legislation website.

You can also read my piece from the 2015 anniversary, and this is an informative and insightful speech on Magna Carta from the medieval historian Jonathan Sumption.

And you can watch this, from another Brummie commentator on Magna Carta, Anthony Aloysius Hancock.

 

 

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36 thoughts on “The TRUTH about Article 61 of Magna Carta”

    1. All you people need to listen/watch the video on youtube.com
      Lawful Rebel Interviews MOB About Common Law & Magna Carta 2020
      Where MOB states that the 1215 Magna Carta was voided because the way it coerced King John at sword point to sign it and that went against Common Law!
      So in 1216 The Chartered Liberties Act came into force.
      It’s a very good video to anyone that needs educating on points of Law.

  1. i am not sure that giving credence to the ignorance and stupidity that is these ridiculous posts, but taking them as if they had any value or validity is in any way helpful. We have all encouraged our students with such whimsy late on a Friday evening, after a difficult week, Tort law, anyone! but we should dismiss for the nonsense that it is, swiftly and brutally.

    1. Disagree.

      Mockery can be off-putting, and although I can be as sardonic as anyone, it is rarely persuasive. I have deliberately played this post as straight as possible, as an exercise in the public understanding of law. As such I hope it will have more impact than mere derision.

      Similarly: me explaining this to you patiently and politely may have more effect than simply dismissing you, swiftly and brutally.

      1. Magna Carter? Sounds like a crap film starring Michael Cain :)

        That said, speak for yourself Mr Tamburro, I found this both helpful and very interesting. Many of us are smart enough to realise these posts are nonsense, and that the poster is the living embodiment of the Dunning-Kruger effect. However, we don’t all have a post-graduate legal qualification nor do we want to spend hours trying to find the explanation.

        Also, give people some credit – few with an able enquiring mind will regard these posts as valid (Magna Carter??). And given the Union Jacks all over the posts, the people who do believe them will never change their minds anyway,

    2. Simply showing that it’s nonsense might not be very valuable: he’s just one small Dutch boy trying to staunch the uncountable holes in bulwark of truth [purple-prose-r-us…] However what he’s done with this worked example is show how easily checked the claim was, that “article 61” wasn’t some Delphic utterance that no lay reader could parse, but actually quite clearly not a good basis for telling the local bobbies to bugger off. With a little (or a lot) of luck with the next such claim a few more people might “DO YOUR OWN RESEARCH!!!” beyond clicking on the “related videos” that YouTube suggests.

  2. I can see a plea in mitigation might work provided you can convince the magistrate you’re a fool you believes everything on the internet.

      1. Ignorance of the law can be a defence in some circumstances: for example, if it amounts to a reasonable excuse for failing to comply with tax obligations.

        For a recent example, https://www.bailii.org/uk/cases/UKFTT/TC/2020/TC07794.html :
        “in certain circumstances ignorance of the law can comprise a reasonable excuse”

        That was following paragraph 82 in Perrin – https://www.bailii.org/uk/cases/UKUT/TCC/2018/156.html : “It is a much-cited aphorism that “ignorance of the law is no excuse”, and on occasion this has been given as a reason why the defence of reasonable excuse cannot be available in such circumstances. We see no basis for this argument.”

  3. If I was a lunatic, I’d quote the UDHR preamble instead.

    “Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression…”

    Which strikes me as much closer to a concept of ‘lawful rebellion’ with arguable status of customary international law.

  4. I’ve seen someone on my social media still adamantly claiming that Article/Chapter 61 is effective, despite various fact checking websites, historians and your good self proving otherwise!

    He continues to claim that it is, and I quote, “unrepealable”. In his mind, because it was once created, it can never be taken away.

    Is any of this based on truth or is he speaking complete and utter nonsense?

  5. You failed to mention four peers petition the Queen (Under article 61) in 2001 re: The Treaty of Niece? There’s a Daily Telegraph article that proves this. Surely if the Magna Carta was “nothing little more than a political ornament” the queen’s Secretary (who replied) would of said as much.

    1. His reply has been quoted as beinfg:

      “The Queen continues to give this issue her closest attention. She is well aware of the strength of feeling which European Treaties, such as the Treaty of Nice, cause. As a constitutional sovereign, Her Majesty is advised by her Government who support this Treaty. As I am sure you know, the Treaty of Nice cannot enter force until it has been ratified by all Member States and in the United Kingdom this entails the necessary legislation being passed by Parliament.”

      There’s nothing there that suggests that Magna Carta is being treated any differently than an ornament, since the Private Secretary effectively replies that it’s up to Parliament.

  6. I would not try and rely on Chapter 61 for anything,
    but it seems to me from your link that the City of London etc. (IX) might still use its “Customs” to stop Brexit, surely?
    (though XXIX did not help any of the Windrush people, did it)

  7. >”As a matter of law and history, Magna Carta is now little more than a legal ornament rather than a living instrument, and it is rarely if ever successfully relied on in practice.”

    Completely agree. But additionally, if that is all it is shouldn’t we stop teaching as some great historical document (which leads people to believe they can rely on it, and also leads them to tolerate the ridiculous continued existence of barons and the monarchy). It’s a minor historical curiosity, not worth more than 2 minutes of classroom time if that.

  8. So, they put up their Magna Carta sign in their shop window – people gleefuly flock in – they catch the virus and then die. Will the shopkeeper be deemed to be complicit in their deaths; merely because he insisted on trading ‘against’ the advice of the powers that be in one of the worst pandemics ever to hit planet Earth?

      1. I wasn’t joking and I stand corrected – may be? The Bubonic Plague and Smallpox may have accounted for millions of deaths – but back then where were the thousands of hospitals and medical staff that we have now who are currently saving lives in this pandemic? Given Covid-19 had hit back a few hundred years ago, hundreds of millions could well have died from it. So. let’s get some persepective on this. Quoting Magna Carta to save a business and potentially take lives at the same time isn’t the way. That was my point.

        1. Are you serious?? Good Lord…
          Covid has a 99.97% survival rate. Also you have to be tested to find if you even have it, and God forbid you get something similar to cold, then all you need to do is stay isolated for 14 days and you’re good to go… Really and that’s what the experts tell us, have you not been listening?

    1. Worst pandemic ever on planet? You must be joking.. Somebody needs to stop watching mainstream media not being sarcastic
      seriously…

  9. If I was one of the Barons that had rebelled against the current king and pushed him unwillingly to sign a document (Magna Carta) that was designed to limit his powers against me I would want to write in some sort of CYA clause just in case the tables were turned in the future. That is what this is, an attempt to fend off any future charges of sedition / insurrection / rebellion by said monarch who would probably give that person a rather extended nasty time before an equally quick but nasty end.
    I don’t think these barons ever considered anyone outside of their immediate lineage and most certainly would be appalled that a common shop keeper would have the gall try to steal their get out clause.
    It was a rather poor idea at the time and equally stupid to think that it might still apply.

  10. So these 25 barons would have been a sort of forerunner to Simon de Montfort’s parliament of 50 years later (1265), and it would be for them to take action to right such wrongs done by the monarch himself!
    It is worth noting several things:
    * The purpose of this document was to restrict the powers of the king – and, at the same time, strengthen the powers of other aspects of government (then the Council of 25, but later Parliament!)
    * So it would be for these barons to take action – which they wouldn’t do against themselves even if purporting to act in the name of the king!
    * The Pope (Innocent III, died 16 July 1216) declared this charter to be “not only shameful and demeaning but also illegal and unjust” since John had been “forced to accept” it, and accordingly the charter was “null, and void of all validity for ever”.
    * Less than three months after it had been agreed, John and the loyalist barons firmly repudiated this charter of 1215.
    * But, as you point out, much of it (though not this clause 61) did get resuscitated in 1216, 1217 and 1225, confirmed in 1253 – all under John’s son Henry III.

  11. “The problem with the world is that the intelligent people are full of doubts, while the stupid ones are full of confidence.”
    – Charles Bukowski

    If you have never seen anyone who was ravaged by this virus or lost someone to it then count yourselves lucky.

    May the nay sayers and the anti vaccers feel something more than confidence one day.

    1. Ms. A. Whilst not a total ‘naysayer’, there do appear to be huge gaps in reported ‘fact’ on both the science of spreadability and also many aspects of the vaccine/s (which the pharmaceutical’s are battling with each other to supply, funny that!). Many in the field of professional medical research, Virologists (the genuine one’s), Biologists and Peers are pulling apart so many of these ‘facts’ on a daily basis. It is STILL unknown in actuality if this virus is a more extreme version of one or more of the previous identified viruses. Then, there is Bill & Melinda Gate’s (neither are in the least medically trained) ingenious plans and deep political ties. Serious questions need to be asked and are, but not in sufficient quanitity. *Then there is the question of incidence and mortality figures being jacked up so as to make Corona a definate. *A local GP advised a patient whom they knew in a personal context, of this very fact in April 2020.

  12. If it is thought that Brad scored a glorious victory over the police officers who came to discuss why his children’s play centre was still open, and that he did so by refusing to enter into a “contract” with them, perhaps one should bear in mind this provision in the current lockdown regulations, which permits:

    (f) indoor gyms, fitness studios, indoor sports facilities and other indoor leisure centres for supervised activities for children

  13. Interesting. Noting those parts of Magna Carta still in force, does this mean that the government is outstripping its authority by telling Church of England Churches that they cannot hold public services during the lockdown?

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