Over 800 years ago the Magna Carta was sealed.

It was a time when the people of England were struggling for justice and freedom.  For years they fought for fairness and equality- and in 1215 they found a way.  A peace treaty, now called the Magna Carta, was made between the barons and the King ensuring, among many things:

  • all people, including those in power, were treated equally under the law
  • fair and prompt trials
  • access to independent and impartial justice

This peace treaty was not perfect.  It originally did not cover all people in England and it was quickly repudiated by the King.  However, it provided a vision of justice and freedom grounded in the rule of law that the people of England adopted.

When the First Fleet arrived on the shores of Botany Bay, they also brought this vision.  The spirit of the Magna Carta was part of the ‘invisible and inescapable cargo of English law’ that came with Arthur Phillip. The public declaration of the vision for the colony was made on 7th February 1788 at Sydney Cove and included:

  • The Second Commission of Arthur Phillip to govern the colony with prudence, courage and loyalty. Arthur Phillip was to be subject to the law and his own orders were to be compatible with the law; and
  • The First Charter of Justice to establish the colony and courts and to ensure that all persons in the colony were subject to the law

This vision was of justice and equality. The colony was to be free from slavery and convicts would have more legal rights than they had in England.

At times, the implementation of this vision was challenging. Aboriginals, Pacific Islanders, Chinese and women were not treated equally under the law nor given fair justice.

When the vision was forgotten, so were the dignity and protections it provided.

We need to look back and learn from history and see this vision of justice and freedom.  We need to ensure the foundations of the rule of law that protect our human rights are maintained so that every Australian, no matter of their race, age, gender or position are;

  • treated equally under the law
  • given fair and prompt trials
  • provided independent and impartial justice

This vision of justice and freedom, with its genesis in the Magna Carta and confirmed with the landing of the First Fleet continues within Australia today.  It is a vision that all people will be treated consistently and fairly and can be realised by preserving and promoting the rule of law.  Only then can we truly protect human rights for all Australians both today and into the future.

To learn more about the Magna Carta and the establishment of the Colony in NSW, click on the below links:

– Magna Carta Legacy Website

-Primary Education Resources- Magna Carta and Human Rights

-Windeyer, Sir Victor — “The Birthright and Inheritance- the Establishment of the Rule of Law in Australia

– Kelly, Paul — “Slavery had no place in the founding vision.” The Australian, 13 June 2020