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MAGNA CARTA


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Author Topic: MAGNA CARTA  (Read 947 times)
Bianca
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« on: December 06, 2007, 08:32:31 pm »








Charles II



The Commonwealth was relatively short lived however, and when Charles II took the throne in 1660, he vowed to respect both the common law and the Charter. Parliament was established as the everyday government of Britain, independent of the king but not more powerful. However, the struggles based on the Charter were far from over and took on the form of the struggle for supremacy between the two Houses of Parliament.





Within Parliament



In 1664, the British navy seized Dutch lands in both Africa and America leading to full-scale war with Holland in 1665. The Lord Chancellor Edward Lord Clarendon, resisted an alliance with the Spanish and Swedes in favour of maintaining a relationship with the French, who were the allies of the Dutch. This lack of a coherent policy led to the Second Anglo-Dutch War (1665-67), with the Dutch burning ships in the docks at Chatham, and the blame was placed on Clarendon. The Commons demanded that Clarendon be indicted before the Lords, but the Lords refused, citing the due process requirements of the Charter, giving Clarendon the time to escape to Europe.

A very similar set of events followed in 1678 when the Commons asked the Lords to indict Thomas Lord Danby on a charge of fraternising with the French. As with Clarendon the Lords refused, again citing Magna Carta and their own supremacy as the upper house. Before the quarrel could be resolved, Charles dissolved the Parliament. When Parliament was re-seated in 1681, again the Commons attempted to force an indictment in the Lords. This time Edward Fitzharris who was accused of writing libellously that the king was involved in a papist plot with the French (including the overthrowing of Magna Carta). However, the Lords doubted the veracity of the claim and refused to try Fitzharris saying Magna Carta stated that everyone must be subject to due process and therefore he must be tried in a lower court first. This time the Commons retorted that it was the Lords who were denying justice under Clause 39 and that the Commons were right to cite the Charter as their precedent. Again, before any true conclusions could be drawn Charles dissolved the Parliament, although more to serve his own ends and to rid himself of a predominantly Whig Parliament, and Fitzharris was tried in a regular court (the King’s Bench) and executed for treason. Here the Charter, once again, was used far beyond the content of its provisions, and simply being used as a representation of justice. Each house was claiming the Charter under Clause 39 supported its supremacy, but the power of the King was still too great for either house to come out fully as the more powerful.





Outside Parliament



The squabble also continued outside the Palace of Westminster. In 1667 the Lord Chief Justice and important member of the House of Lords, Lord Keating, forced a grand jury of Middlesex to return a verdict of murder when they wanted to return one of manslaughter. However, his biggest crime in the eyes of the Commons was that, when the jury objected on the grounds of Magna Carta, he scoffed and exclaimed “Magna Carta, what ado with this have we?” The Commons were incensed at this abuse of the Charter and accused him of “endangering the liberties of the people”. However, the Lords claimed he was just referring to the inappropriateness of the Charter in this context, but Keating apologised anyway. In 1681 the next Lord Chief Justice, Lord Scroggs, was condemned by the Commons first for being too severe in the so-called ‘papist plot trials’ and second for dismissing another Middlesex grand jury in order to secure against the indictment of the Duke of York, the Catholic younger brother of the King later to become James II. Charles again dissolved Parliament before the Commons could impeach Scroggs, and removed him from office on a good pension. Just as it seemed that the Commons might be able to impose their supremacy over the Lords, the King intervened and proved he was still the most powerful force in the government. However, it was certainly beginning to become established that the Commons were the primary branch of Government, and they used the Charter as much as they could in order to achieve this end.





Supremacy of the Commons



This was not the end of the struggle however, and in 1679 the Commons passed the Habeas Corpus Act of 1679, which greatly reduced the powers of the Crown. The act passed through the Lords by a small majority, arguably establishing the Commons as the more powerful House. This was the first time since the importance of the Charter had been so magnified that the Government had admitted that the liberties granted by the Charter were inadequate. However, this did not completely oust the position of the Charter as a symbol of the law of the ‘golden age’ and the basis of common law.

It did not take long before the questioning of the Charter really took off and Sir Matthew Hale soon afterwards introduced a new doctrine of common law based on the principle that the Crown (including the government cabinet in that definition) made all law and could only be bound by the law of God, and showed that the 1215 charter was effectively overruled by the 1225 charter, further undermining the idea that the charter was unassailable, adding credence to the idea that the Commons were a supreme branch of Government. Some completely denied the relevance of the 1215 Charter as it was forced upon the king by rebellion (although the fact that the 1225 charter was forced on a boy by his guardians was overlooked). It was similarly argued against the Charter that it was nothing more than a relaxation of the rigid feudal laws and therefore had no meaning outside of that application.
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