I am sure that you are aware that Nigeria was a former British colony, and that our laws were formed along the framework of the British common law. That being the case, how did the British come about their system of laws, which would later invariably influence ours.

Look no further, or shall I say, let’s look back in time to the Magna Carta.

The Great Treaty

The Magna Carta was written, or drawn up in 1215, in the meadows of Runnymede on the banks of the river Thames in England. At the time, the king of England, King John, was fighting with other powerful landowners. These landowners, called barons, were unhappy with the way the king was running the country and the amount of money he was taxing them; hence they sought a solution.

The Magna Carta is actually Latin – the official language in England and Europe at that time – for The Great Treaty, and it was written to make the barons happy and stop the fighting. It sought to set out a list of basic rules about how the country would be run, and formed the basis of later laws.

One of the most important,] was that no one was above the law – including the king. King John signed it by putting his royal seal on it, this meant that the clauses named would apply to everyone. Once the original copy was made, it was then copied about 250 times and taken around the country so it would apply everywhere.

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Why So important?

It is often referred to as one of the most important documents in history, and is even said to have inspired the drafting of the American colonies’ Declaration of Independence from Great Britain.

The Magna Carta for the first time set out a list of rules that would be applicable across England, and while it may be said that not many of these rules still exist, they nevertheless created the idea that a law should be in place.

Such ideas that the law should apply to the king or queen (or anyone having executive powers), that everyone should have a fair trial, and that people shouldn’t be taxed too much were all created in the Magna Carta.

What Happened Next?

Though, the Magna Carta was meant to stop the fighting in England – it didn’t. Because just weeks after is was written, King John said he didn’t like it – and so it didn’t count for a while until King John died, and his successor, Henry III brought it back because he thought it was a good idea.

How Has It Affected Life Today?

Some historians believe that it was the start of the freedoms and political rights that people in the United Kingdom and other parts of the world have today. Also, that it has contributed greatly to modern societies being more equal than they were centuries ago.

Yet, others disagree and don’t think it was that important. They reason that the rules or clauses were applicable to less that half the population of people at the time, and that out of the 63 rules that formed the Magna Carta, only 3 remain part of British law today.

So, What Does It Look Like?

Magna Carta Cum Statutis, ca. 1325, at Harvard Law School library. Jon Chase/Harvard Staff Photographer

Magna Carta Cum Statutis, ca. 1325, at Harvard Law School library. Jon Chase/Harvard Staff Photographer

There are only four copies of the original document remaining, and because each copy had to be written by hand, it took lots of time, skill and patience. 

And being an important work of that magnitude, you might expect the documents to be beautifully decorated as many documents were at the time, but that is far from the case as it is actually quite plain looking. Experts say that is because it was meant to be a working document which needed to be used so people could look at the new rules regularly.

And whatever sentiments there may be about the Magna Carta, it cannot be overlooked that it formed the foundation for the creation of democratic laws in more countries than one, Nigeria being one of its beneficiaries. 

Source: BBC Newsround

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