As we celebrate the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta there are many attempts to read the Magna Carta through a modern lens, applying our contemporary values and understandings to the ancient document.

As a counterpoint, the Honourable James Spigelman AC QC offered some timely insights into the medieval context of the Magna Carta at an event in the Banco Court at the Supreme Court of New South Wales on the 22 April 2015.

Mr Spigelman’s paper entitled ‘Magna Carta in its Medieval Context‘, examines the evolution of the Magna Carta from Henry I’s Charter of Liberties to the Confirmations of 1297 and 1300. He writes that:

“As finalised in 1225, the Magna Carta and Forest Charter are not simply a list of grievances to be remedied. By reason of their scope and detail they constitute the first comprehensive statement in written form, formally promulgated to the whole English population, of the requirements of good governance and of the limits upon the exercise of political power.”

He then observes the effect of the Magna Carta on the political nation, and addresses how the ideas that came from the Magna Carta influenced English legal history.

A written version of the address is available from the Supreme Court’s website.