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Magna Carta and laws past and future

June 15, 2015

2015 is an important year for #legalread. We are celebrating the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta sealed at Runnymede in Surrey in 1215. Visit exploring Surrey’s past to find out more about Surrey in the Age of Magna Carta In Surrey we recently heard why ‘boggy’ Runnymede was chosen as the Magna Carta site from Dr David Starkey in his talk at Guildford Cathedral. Dr Starkey’s book Magna Carta and us investigates the effect of the charters of 1215 and 1225. The British Library in their exhibition: Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy  tell us that since 1215, Magna Carta has evolved from a political peace treaty to an international symbol of individual. If you want to find out more about the Magna Carta and history related to it try this biography of King John, David Carpenter’s The Struggle for Mastery, or by the same author, this discussion of the historical background and impact of the Magna Carta. In America the Magna Carta’s influence can be seen in the Bill of Rights, the link is commemorated in a memorial at Runnymede erected by the American Bar Association. Allen Drury’s political novels show US politicians and judges grappling with legislation. But why do we need laws? Summed up by Sir Thomas More in a Man for All Seasons by Robert Bolt

“William Roper – So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law Sir Thomas More – Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? William Roper – Yes, I’d cut down every law in England to do that! Sir Thomas More Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man’s laws, not God’s! And if you cut them down, and you’re just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake! “

Laws and liberties beyond Magna Carta in many genres Modern thrillers often have characters who under the law can be both victims and the perpetrators of fresh crimes – histories of Domestic Abuse often feature in these. Alternatively the law can be made an Ass – as Rumpole of the Bailey demonstrated on a regular basis. The judiciary – the butt of many of Rumpole’s jokes can also be the hero as in – Judge John Deed. The means the law employs to arrive at its conclusions can be a hard but fascinating read. Forensics : the anatomy of crime by Val McDermid  accompanied the Forensics exhibition at the Wellcome Institute in London. New Worlds new laws – maybe we could all live by Isaac Asimov’s laws of Robotics?

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws

Sue Applegate (Surrey Libraries)

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