The Charter of Liberties

From the DPP’s Newsletter

The inspirational motto for the Office of the DPP, which appears on the front page of our monthly newsletter, comes straight from Chapter 40 of the Magna Carta “To No one Will We sell, To no one Deny or Delay Right or Justice”. The mere mention of buying or selling justice may sound revolting today but there were times during the reigns of tyrannical English monarchs when judgments were deliberately delayed so that justice could be bought and sold.

The Magna Carta or the Charter of Liberties celebrates its 800 years of existence this year. It was issued on 15 June 1215. This anniversary will be celebrated in most common law jurisdictions. In order to mark the event, the Office of the DPP will publish in its next edition of the Mauritius Criminal Law Review, an article written by Nicholas Cowdery, founder DPP of New South Wales, on the history and contemporary relevance of the Magna Carta.

The Charter itself was the outcome of a peace agreement between a group of rebel barons who had organized resistance to the rule of the unpopular king John, King of England, and taken oath to “stand fast for the liberty of the church and the realm”. It is known to be the first document that had curtailed considerably the powers of the King, something unimaginable at the time.

It must be remembered that in 1215 the powers of the executive, legislative and judiciary were all concentrated in the King. Hence, its immense significance as it had expressed a clear rejection of unbridled and unaccountable royal power.

The Charter laid down important fundamental rights. It provided for the primacy of the law and guaranteed that people should have a free and just trial. It had in effect sown the seeds for the rule of law. Today it is also recognized as the cornerstone of American legal development from the very beginning.

Of the three surviving originals of the Charter, one can be seen at the British Museum, which will be organizing an exhibition later in the year to mark the 800 years of the Charter. The document is in Latin. But even in translation the terms of Chapters

39 and 40 as Tom Bingham, the eminent English judge puts it, “have the power to make the blood race”:

  1. No free man shall be seized or imprisoned or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the law of judgment of his equals or by the law of the land.
  2. To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.

These words should be inscribed on the walls of our public institutions and more especially in police stations.

Satyajit Boolell SC
Director of Public Prosecutions

DPP’s Newsletter – February 2015- Issue 44


* Published in print edition on 6 February  2015

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