Nicholas Cowdery AM QC, Chairman of the Magna Carta Committee of the Rule of Law Institute spoke to The World Today, outlining common misconceptions associated with the Magna Carta, what the document actually stands for, and why the government needs to rethink its approach to mandatory sentences and terrorism laws. The full interview ‘What can Tony Abbott learn from the Magna Carta’ is available here.

 Magna Carta Misconceptions

When asked about the key misconceptions Mr Cowdery said

“Magna Carta, for example, did not bring in trial by jury, it didn’t bring in the separation of powers, or universal suffrage, or freedom of religion, or habeas corpus”

It begs the question, what does the Magna Carta actually stand for?

Mr Cowdery stated that the Magna Carta is

  • “authority for the independence and professional competence of the judiciary”
  • “authority for equality before the law and due process without corruption”
  • “authority for the presumption of innocence and the burden of proof being on the prosecution”
  • “and its authority for freedom from arbitrary punishment and proportionality in sentencing.”
Mandatory Sentences

Mr Cowdery then turned to how these principles are enacted today.

He reiterated that “Magna Carta, is authority, in its terms, for proportionality in sentencing …

Back in 1215 they were thinking that the punishment should fit the crime and the criminal, and yet we have politicians in the 21st century who can’t get that idea through their heads and try and impose mandatory sentences.”

Terrorism Laws

“there are certain rights that people enjoy that should not be taken away from them without proper judicial process, not just an executive function of somebody in the executive making a declaration, that’s a form of dictatorship.

Citizenship is a fundamental right and it’s something that consistently with the principles in the Magna Carta should not be taken away from somebody without a proper judicial process based upon laws that enable that to happen.

… the use of powers of this kind simply by the executive and without a finding of some kind based upon the law where there is the ability to be heard and there are all the safeguards of the judicial process, for things like that to happen are indicators of bits of dictatorship and I am terribly disappointed that the opposition, the parliamentary opposition, is not taking a stand against this.”