Where did our society, culture, freedoms and responsibilities come from?
Although without a written constitution, the UK has an “un-codified constitution” based on diverse laws, practices and conventions and a rich history of documented ‘law’ that dates back over 1,400 years.
Our inheritance from this rich history is what provides us with the society, culture, freedoms and responsibilities we now enjoy. Failure to recognise, value and protect this inheritance increases the risk of losing itand presents two important questions that each of us must answer:
- Have we been good stewards of the society and cultural legacy we inherited from our parents and grand parents?
- What kind of society and cultural legacy will we leave for our children, grandchildren and future generations?
The key events that have shaped our society and culture include:
- King Alfred the Great’s Law Code (871-899 A.D.), derived from the prior Saxon Codes, and prefaced by the Ten Commandments, that establishes the “Golden Rule”:
That is, that man ought not to judge another except, as he would want to be judged or in other words; “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”; love you neighbor as you love yourself.
It is explicit that justice should be dispensed impartially – to both the rich and poor, for friends and foes – and so reflecting the Mosaic law of the Torah:
“You shall not be partial to the poor; nor defer to the great! But you are to judge your neighbour fairly!”
That is, whether Woman or Man, Gay, Straight or something else, Black or White, Rich or Poor, Christian, Atheist, Muslim or Sikh, we are all entitled to equal treatment under the lawand we are all subject to UK law.
King Alfred’s Law Code also introduced the concepts of mercy, the need for a balance between mercy and justice and the link between mercy and repentance (or remorse).
- The Magna Carta (1215 A.D.), “the greatest constitutional document of all times – the foundation of the freedom of the individual against the arbitrary authority of the despot” and containing the concepts that underpin many of the freedoms we have today; subjecting all people (including the King) to the law and protecting the rights of all people, equal under the law, including the right to:
- Individual liberty and justice; a fair trial based on the judgment of peers and under the established Common Law, requiring evidence of a crime,
- Security of personal property,
- Proportionate punishments,
- Diligent and knowledgeable judges
In addition, the Magna Carta introduced the concepts of freedom of the church, trading standards, free trade, freedom to travel abroad, representative institutions and majority voting (democracy).
Furthermore, for over 800 years, the Magna Carta has been used for the protection of an individual’s rights, the abolition of slavery, the foundation of the US Declaration of Independence and of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
- The Petition of Rights (1628 A.D.) – in this case to restrain Charles I’s abuse of power – that:
- Prevented imprisonment without cause, which lead to the Habeus Corpus Act (1769 A.D.) providing the right of appealfor unjust detention.
- Placed restrictions on non-Parliament taxation
- Placed restrictions on the use of martial law
- The Bill of Rights (1689 A.D.) that:
- Limited the power of the Monarch
- Gave rights to Parliament, including the right to freedom of speech within Parliament
- Prohibited cruel and unusual punishments
- The Act of Settlement (1701 A.D.) that defined the succession to The Crown and ensured judicial independence from Government.
- The Representation of the Peoples Act (1918 A.D.) that ensured the right of all people to vote.
- The Parliament Acts of 1911 and 1949 concerned with issues including placing restrictions on the House of Lords and on the length of a Parliament.
- Informed by the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948 A.D.), and collating much of what had gone before, the Human Rights Act (1998 A.D.) provided all people with the right to protection of property, education, free elections, a fair trial, the presumption of innocence, freedom of thought, conscience and religion, freedom to change religion, to publicly manifest religion, freedom of expression, to hold opinions and to receive and impart information, of assembly and association, to marry, to liberty and security, a private and family life and to life itself; and prohibition of torture, slavery and discrimination on any grounds.
 Ethelbert of Kent (602 A.D.), Ine of Wessex (694), Offa of Mercia (786 A.D.)
 Bible: Matthew Chapter 7 verse 12; Jesus’ words and Romans 13 verse 9-10; Paul’s words
 Bible: Leviticus Chapter 19 verse 15
 Lord Denning, leading English judge of the 20thcentury
 Magna Carta, Clauses 39 and 40 – still on the UK statute book
 Magna Carta, Clause 38
 Magna Carta, Clauses 28, 30, 31 and 52; an necessity for security and economic prosperity
 Magna Carta, Clauses 20 and 21
 Magna Carta, Clause 45
 Magna Carta, Clauses 1 and 63
 Magna Carta, Clause 35
 Magna Carta, Clause 41
 Magna Carta, Clause 42
 Magna Carta, Clause 61
 Granville Sharp and the case of James Somerset