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The Magna Carta Lecture Series at Royal Holloway

Since 2005, the Magna Carta lecture series has covered almost every aspect of the themes raised by the history of Magna Carta – themes of rights and liberties, of granting of fair justice and of the freedom of the individual under the law. Between them, our speakers have reflected on the tension between the sovereignty of law and the sovereignty of parliament, the work of the United Nations in safeguarding human rights abroad, and even whether we need a Magna Carta for the environment.

A second ten year series of Magna Carta Lectures was announced last year and made possible by the generosity of two donors: The Magna Carta 800th Anniversary Commemoration Committee and the charity, Runnymede Magna Carta Legacy. With the original lecture series running up to 2015 and the 800th anniversary of the sealing of Magna Carta, the new series will run until 2025, coinciding with the 800th anniversary of when King Henry III issued what became the final and definitive version of the Magna Carta.

Forming part of our wider Magna Carta Legacy here at Royal Holloway, the Leverhulme Magna Carta Doctoral School continues to recruit new cohorts of students and at the at the start of 2017, we were delighted to announce that Royal Holloway has secured Heritage Lottery Fund investment to launch our £1m Citizens project as part of our commitment to continue building an educational legacy from the Magna Carta 800th celebrations. Citizens will produce an innovative range of digital learning resources for schools and adult learners, as well as community engagement activities, such as our recent Festival of History, which took visitors on a journey that spanned the period from the sealing of the Magna Carta to the Suffragettes and beyond.

The project, delivered in partnership with Egham Museum and The Magna Carta School, is supported by the AQA exam board, the Historical Association, the Parliamentary Archives, the People’s History Museum, The History of Parliament Trust, the National Justice Museum and others.

Royal Holloway’s goal is that by exploring the history of liberty, protest and reform, we will understand how this has shaped what it means to be a citizen today, and the responsibilities we carry for the future.

Previous lectures

2017 Her Honour Judge Khatun Sapnara

Black and minority ethnic families and the family justice system

Her Honour Judge Khatun Sapnara sits in the East London Family Court and also Kingston Crown Court, hearing both criminal and family law cases. She practised as a barrister for 24 years and a recognised expert in domestic and "honour" based violence as well as forced marriage and female genital mutilation.  

Judge Sapnara has been an advisor to successive governments on these issues, chaired a Home Office Domestic Homicide Review, and served on the Family Justice Council, in addition to serving on the boards of a number of charities and voluntary sector organisations.

In the 2017 Magna Carta Lecture, Judge Sapnara considered the challenges faced by British courts in dealing with cases involving honour based violence, forced marriage, female genital mutilation and radicalisation.

2016 Mr David Anderson QC 

Terrorism and tolerance: UK’s independent ‘terror watchdog’ asks how we reconcile traditional freedoms with prevention of terrorism

Mr David Anderson QC, Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, delivered the 2016 Magna Carta lecture.  

In 2011 David was appointed by the Home Secretary to his current post, a part-time role which combines with his practice commitments. His report ‘A Question of Trust’ bore fruit in the Investigatory Powers Bill 2015. He was named by The Times in 2012 as one of the UK’s 100 most influential lawyers and chosen as Legal Personality of the Year by the judges of the Halsbury Legal Awards 2015.

Mr Anderson’s lecture explored the capacity of international human rights law as a practical framework for deciding what must be tolerated and what must not.  

Listen to his lecture

2015 The Rt Hon Jack Straw 

National security and the rule of law: competing interests or complementary priorities?

The Rt Hon Jack Straw was the Member of Parliament for Blackburn from 1979 to 2015. Mr Straw played a leading role in all the Labour governments between 1997 and 2010. A barrister by training, he entered parliament in 1979 and in Labour’s opposition years was successively shadow spokesman on the environment, education, and home affairs. After the Labour victory in the general election of 1997 he was appointed Home Secretary, a post he was to hold for four years.

In 2001,in Tony Blair’s second government, he was moved to be Foreign Secretary, and he was to serve in this office for five years until 2006. After a brief period as Leader of the House of Commons, in 2007 he was appointed to his final position in government, that of Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, a post he was to hold until the election of 2010.

In his lecture, Mr Straw brought a wealth of experience born of his years in government service and public life. He held office in departments which have had responsibility for both home and foreign affairs, and especially in his years at the Home Office he had to reflect on difficult questions involving both personal freedom and national security. Mr Straw talked about the greatest of themes raised by the history of the Charter, how freedom may be reconciled with the need for security, and where and how we draw the line between the two.

Listen to his lecture

2014 Professor Linda Colley CBE

Professor Linda Colley CBE delivered the 2014 Magna Carta lecture on 17 June.

The current Shelby M.C Davis 1958 Professor of History at Princeton University in the United States discussed 'Magna Carta in British History: Memory, Inventions and Forgetting'.

2015 witnessed celebrations of the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta. Yet how this iconic text has been understood, used and commemorated has changed markedly over the centuries, not just in England, but throughout the British Isles and in the one-time British Empire.

This lecture explored some of these shifts over time, and discussed how - and how far - the cult that evolved around this text relates to the UK’s lack of a written constitution.

2013 Dr Bertie Ramcharan

Dr Bertie Ramcharan, former UN Commissioner gave the 2013 lecture on 17 June 2013.

Entitled ‘The UN Quest for the Protection of Human Rights’, Dr Ramcharan will give a short summary of the human rights vision at the time of the founding of the UN, discuss the challenges of protection ever since, assess where protection efforts are now, and offer some thoughts for the future.

2012 The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams

guest lecturesThe former Most Reverend and Right Honourable the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams , delivered the eighth annual Magna Carta Lecture on 15 June 2012.

  His lecture ‘Sovereignty, Democracy, Justice: elements of a good society?’ considered the question of where good government finds its legitimacy.

Dr Williams explored the nature of democratic legitimacy: how this is shaped by the proper recognition of the role of law and how systems of representation can be fully accountable. He particularly focused on the relationship between the proper democratic emphasis on the views of majorities and the need to safeguard the interests of minorities.

You can read his lecture in full here .

2011 The Rt Hon Lady Justice Arden DBE

The Rt Hon Lady Justice Arden DBE, Court of Appeal judge and College visitor delivered her lecture called ‘Magna Carta and the Judges – Realising the Vision’ on 16 June 2011.

Lady Justice Arden was appointed to the Court of Appeal in 2000, the first practising woman barrister to achieve such a position. She was appointed to the Bar at Gray’s Inn in 1971 and admitted to Lincoln’s Inn in 1973.

From 1971 to 1993, she practised at Erskine Chambers before being appointed to the High Court after becoming a QC in 1986. She was Chairman of the Law Commission from 1996 to 1999.

You can read her lecture in full here.

2010 Dame Fiona Reynolds

Dame Fiona Reynolds, Director General of the National Trust for England, Wales and Northern Ireland delivered her lecture on ‘Magna Carta and Environmental Rights on 15 June 2010.

Dame Reynolds explored some of the parallels that exist between the struggle for political rights, as symbolised by Magna Carta, and the emergence of environmental rights – of which the Charter of the Forest, the partner document to the Magna Carta, could be seen as an early manifestation.

The National Trust’s custodianship of Runnymede highlights the connections that exist between these two threads running through British history, as well as the Trust’s own role in protecting open spaces since 1895.

Dame Reynolds traced the Trust’s involvement with Runnymede as well as with other sites that speak to the story of the development of rights and liberties through the ages.

You can read her lecture in full here.

2009 The Rt Hon David Davis MP

In 2009, the Rt Hon David Davis, Member of Parliament for Haltemprice and Howden and Shadow Home Secretary, delivered the fifth lecture.

Entitled ‘The Assault on Liberty’, Mr Davis discussed the unintended consequences, in terms of civil liberties, of law and policy reform ranging from the Magna Carta to modern day matters like National ID cards and State surveillance powers.

David Davis has been Conservative Party Chairman and Shadow Deputy Prime Minister. A Member of Parliament for Haltemprice and Howden since 1997, he was Shadow Home Secretary from 2003-08, when he resigned from the front bench and House of Commons.

This was to fight a by-election on the issues of the government’s slow strangulation of our civil liberties.

You can read his lecture in full here.

2008 The Rt Hon Sir Anthony Clark

Master of the Rolls and Head of Civil Justice the Rt Hon Sir Anthony Clark gave the fourth lecture in 2008. It was called ‘Constitutional Justice: Lessons from Magna Carta’.

Sir Anthony Clarke MR was called to the Bar (Middle Temple) in 1965 where he was the pupil of Barry Sheen. Sir Anthony spent 14 years at the Bar, specialising in maritime and commercial law. In 1979, he became a QC and then a Recorder sitting in both criminal and civil courts.

He was appointed to the High Court Bench in 1993 and in April that year succeeded Mr Justice Sheen as the Admiralty judge.

In 1998, he was appointed to the Court of Appeal where he had to conduct the Thames Safety Inquiry and the Marchioness and Bowbelle Inquiries the following year. On 1 October 2005, he became Master of the Rolls and Head of Civil Justice.

2007  The Rt Hon Shirley Williams

The Rt Hon Shirley Williams, Baroness Williams of Crosby, delivered the third Magna Carta lecture on 13 June 2007.

Called ‘The Development of Human Rights Law’, the lecture examined the legacy of Magna Carta in the context of globalisation and the close interweaving of English and European political destinies.

Magna Carta is widely regarded internationally as one of the most important documents in the history of the development of representative democracy, human rights and the rule of the law. It is symbolic of the origins of parliamentary democracy.

You can read her lecture in full here.

2006 - Professor Vernon Bogdanor

For the second annual Magna Carta lecture on 15 June 2006, Professor Vernon Bogdanor, professor of government at Oxford University, argued that we’re heading for a constitutional crisis as the rule that Parliament is sovereign is being challenged by the rule of law.

Professor Bogdanor is an advocate of constitutional reform including proportional representation, but supports retention of the monarchy. A leading authority on parliamentary institutions and constitutional reform, he has published extensively in both books and media articles.

He was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 1997 and works as special advisor to many parliamentary committees. He is a past member of the Council of the Hansard Society. In 1998, he was awarded the CBE.

You can read his lecture in full here

2005 - Lord Woolf

Our first annual Magna Carta lecture took place on 15 June 2005 in the Main Lecture Theatre.

Lord Woolf, Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales took the lecture called ‘Magna Carta and our Evolving Constitution’. 

A senior judge, Lord Woolf held the office of Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales with distinction between 2000 and 2005.

He is a former chairman of the Magna Carta Trust and Pro-Chancellor of the University of London and spoken forcefully on many of the principles enshrined in Magna Carta many times. He is the author of an array of publications, including Protecting the Public, The New Challenge (1990) and Principles of Judicial Review (1999).

Read his lecture in full here.


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