Magna Carta | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Introduction / Procedural Law

The Magna Carta was a charter of liberties that the English Barons forced King John to sign in 1215.

The Magna Carta, also known as the Great Charter, was a document signed by King John of England in 1215. The document is widely considered to be a landmark in the development of individual rights and the rule of law. It was created in response to widespread dissatisfaction among the barons of England with the arbitrary rule of King John, who had been using his power to impose heavy taxes and confiscate property without due process.

One of the most significant provisions of the Magna Carta was the guarantee of due process of law. The charter established that no one could be imprisoned or deprived of their property without a fair trial by a jury of their peers. It also restricted the power of the monarch to interfere in legal proceedings and required that laws be applied equally to all citizens.

While the Magna Carta is not specifically focused on policing issues, it did establish important principles that continue to shape the criminal justice system. The charter laid the foundation for the right to a fair trial and the presumption of innocence, which are fundamental concepts in the modern criminal justice system.

The Magna Carta also established important limits on the power of the monarchy. This was significant because at the time of its creation, the monarch had nearly absolute power in England. The charter created a framework for the rule of law, in which the government was held accountable to the people through legal and judicial institutions.

The principles established in the Magna Carta have influenced legal systems around the world, including the United States. Many of the provisions of the U.S. Constitution, including the Bill of Rights, can be traced back to the Magna Carta. The charter’s emphasis on individual rights and the rule of law has also been a driving force behind many of the reforms in policing and criminal justice in the United States.

One example of the influence of the Magna Carta on modern policing is the requirement for probable cause before a search or seizure can take place. The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which establishes this requirement, can be traced back to the provisions of the Magna Carta that protect individuals from arbitrary searches and seizures.

In addition to establishing principles that continue to shape the criminal justice system, the Magna Carta also had a significant impact on the development of constitutional law. Its emphasis on individual rights and the rule of law laid the foundation for the development of constitutional protections against government abuse of power.

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Last Modified: 04/10/2023

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