Ebenezer Scrooge on “Magna Carta Day”


In an office, somewhere in London.


Nephew: Happy Magna Carta Day, uncle!


Scrooge: Humbug.


Nephew: Magna Carta Day a humbug?


Scrooge:  If I could work my will, every idiot who goes about with ‘Magna Carta Day’ on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a rolled medieval manuscript through his heart.


Nephew: Uncle!


Scrooge: Why do you celebrate Magna Carta?


Nephew: It is the basis of our right to a fair trial, uncle.  Everyone knows that. Even you.


Scrooge: Has this Magna Carta “right to a fair trial” ever been successfully relied on by any litigant in an English case, eh? Has it?


Nephew: That’s not the point.


Scrooge: Hardly the basis of the “right to a fair trial” then , is it?  Look at the courtrooms and the prisons: has any defendant ever been helped by this so-called right in Magna Carta?  Has any case ever turned on it? Eh, Sir?


Nephew: Uncle, that is not the point!  Magna Carta is of fundamental importance.


Scrooge: How?


Nephew: It symbolises…


Scrooge: ….symbolises?


Nephew: …it symbolises…the symbolism of our liberties.


Scrooge: So it makes no practical difference.


Nephew: The Prime Minister is for it.


Scrooge: Does that not strike you as odd?  What sort of symbol of our liberties is it that is praised by the head of the government?  The whole point of a symbol of our liberties would be that a Prime Minister should not like it!


Nephew: Uncle, you are being contrarian!


Scrooge: No Sir, I am just being clear instead of muddled.  I ask another question of you: does Magna Carta stop parliament?  Can the Commons still legislate as they will?


Nephew: Yes, Sir, I am sad to say so.


Scrooge: Oh! I was afraid, from what you said, that something had occurred to stop it.


Nephew: That is not how Magna Carta works!


Scrooge: Magna Carta does not work at all!  Nobody is the better for it.  It assists neither the prisoner nor the appellant.  It is flapdoodle, claptrap, balderdash.  It may as well never been passed at all for all the difference it has ever made.


Nephew: But is still a symbol!


Scrooge: Yes.  But it is a symbol of how easily people are taken in.  It is a symbol of the fact we pretend there is any constitutional block on parliament and judges to exactly what they want anyway.  Good day, Sir.


Nephew: Uncle!


Scrooge: Good day.



With an apology to Dickens.

[For a more serious version of the above, see my post at the Financial Times (free to access, registration required).]


4 thoughts on “Ebenezer Scrooge on “Magna Carta Day””

  1. “Look at the courtrooms and the prisons: has any defendant ever been helped by this so-called right in Magna Carta? Has any case ever turned on it? Eh, Sir?”

    Well, every single jury trial ever?

    1. Is there an example of someone successfully insisting on a jury trial on the basis of Magna Carta? Most criminal cases are not before juries.

  2. You’re right. Magna Carta is a symbol. It has zero practical impact on modern lawmaking. But I think what it represents is important in terms of our national memory. That a leader, whether a King or a President, shouldn’t wield unfettered power; that a citizen shouldn’t be subject to criminal sanction by the wave of a magnate’s hand; these principles have resonance today.

    Of course, this wasn’t the original purpose of Magna Carta. Read the document and it’s got more to say about taxation, and salmon weirs than it does about individual liberty. But that’s the nature of symbols; we use them as we need to use them and ignore the inconvenient bits. In terms of historical justification or liberty and curbs on executive power, I can think of worse symbols than Magna Carta.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *