‘Key role for Magna Carta’ in 
spy debate

The head of a committee organising events throughout 2015 to commemorate the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta has said the document plays a vital role in the debate over government surveillance.

The Salisbury Cathedral Magna Carta, one of four remaining manuscripts

Sir Robert Worcester, chairman of the Magna Carta 800th Committee, said the ancient artefact remained important because it promoted human rights and the rule of law.

More than 100 events are taking place to commemorate the Magna Carta, with the Queen attending a large ceremony in Runnymede, Surrey, where it was sealed on June 15 1215.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

VisitEngland recently included the celebrations in a list of the top 15 events of this year.

In February, the four original copies of the document will be displayed together for the first time, while a major exhibition at the British Library, the release of a set of stamps and a new £2 coin are among other attempts to 
raise awareness of the Magna Carta.

Speaking about its relevance, Sir Robert said: “We’re in a period of tension between human rights – such as privacy – and terrorism.

“That is a huge reason for an understanding of where the balance is between those things, how much right does MI5 and MI6 have in tapping telephones?

“That comes under the Magna Carta.

“Where are our rights, where are the limits and how do we judge them?

“In this country we judge them by going to court and we expect to have judges who will make an honourable decision against a government that the court feels is taking undue power.”

The Magna Carta was created in the 13th century when many English barons opposed King John after backing his disastrous war against the French.

The capture of the city of London by the barons forced the king to negotiate with them and endorse the document.

“It marked the road to individual freedom, parliamentary democracy and the supremacy of law.

Sir Robert revealed that the commemorative event he was most looking forward to was a mock trial to determine whether the barons committed treason, as claimed by King John.

Sir Robert said: “They’re finding whether King John was right to argue that these people committed treason at Runnymede by forcing him under duress to agree to this wretched piece of paper called Magna Carta.

“For me this will be one of the most fun things about the 
800th anniversary and I have no idea what the tribunal will 

“They could agree that it’s treason, and there’s a case in law –clearly, I’m told – for treason.” He joked that the barons were “for the chop” if found guilty at the event being held on July 31 at Westminster Hall.

The unification of the original copies of the Magna Carta will take place for the first time in 800 years on February 2 to 4 in the British Library.

The library permanently holds two of the copies.

The other two are usually held at Lincoln Cathedral and Salisbury Cathedral.