The Magna Carta or Magna Charta libertatum is considered the symbol of democracy because it was the first written document that recognized human rights, limited the powers of the king, and created the basis of modern institutions, such as the parliamentary system. For these reasons, it is a very important document for the history of Europe and the World and it is still the Fundamental Charter of the British Monarchy. In fact, this list of laws, created to grant the rights of the powerful classes, in the following centuries became the basis for recognizing human rights and institutions in modern constitutions.
The Magna Carta was signed by King John of England (1199-1216), called “John without land”, on 15th June 1215, at Runnymede, near London, and was written in Latin by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Stephen Langton. King John was forced to sign it by the barons and the rich merchants, after imposing heavy taxes to pay for his disastrous military campaigns in France, and to save his lands. The document, with its 63 clauses, established for the first time that everybody, including the king, was subjected to the law.
Although the Magna Carta recognized only the rights of “free men”, such as feudal lords, clergy, and citizens, excluding servants, it recognized some fundamental rights, such as the principle of equality before the law, the right of the Church to be free, and the creation of an Appeals Court and a Council of 25 barons, which controlled the power of the king. But the most important principle was the Habeas Corpus Act: the right not to go to prison without an impartial trial and evidence. Before that, in fact, the king or a lord could kill or imprison a man without a trial and without bodies of evidence. After John’s death, between 1216 and 1297, under the reigns of Henry III end Edward I, the Magna Carta was amended and ratified by the Parliament.
The Magna Carta, created to recognize the rights of the powerful classes, in the following centuries became the basis for recognizing human rights and institutions in modern constitutions. The principles of the Habeas Corpus Act were recognized in France in 1792, with the Constitution of the French Revolution, and in Italy in 1848, with Article 26 of the Albertine Statute; still today it is a fundamental principle of the judicial systems of the democratic states all around the World. In 1295, Edward I recognized the parliamentary system: next to the Common Council, formed by the Lords and Clergy, an Assembly of citizens was created. The first bicameral Parliament was created, and formed by the House of Lords and House of Commons (citizens and small nobility). The Magna Carta also derived fundamental documents for the recognition of rights, such as The Petition for Rights of 1628 and The Law of Rights of 1689, which established the superiority of the Parliament over the Crown. It also inspired the United States Constitution (1791), The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), and The European Convention on Human Rights (1950).
For all these reasons, we have to recognize the importance of this law which is still considered the symbol of modern democracy.