Magna Carta and Human Rights

What is the relationship between the Magna Carta and Human Rights?

The Magna Carta is often seen as one of the first legal documents protecting human rights. But what is its impact on later human rights documents?

Magna Carta Legacy poster

Download the updated 2019 version of the Poster to Print in A3

The Magna Carta controlled the power of the King for the first time in English history. It began the tradition of respect for the law, limits on government power, and a social contract where the government ruled with the consent of the people.

The true power of the Magna Carta lies in its impact on later documents, and the creation of a culture of the rule of law. This poster explores the legacy of the Magna Carta and its effect on human rights documents, tracing the evolution from the Magna Carta to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and giving an overview of the relationship between the Magna Carta and Human Rights.

In Australia, the spirit of the Magna Carta was part of the ‘invisible and inescapable cargo of English law’ that came with Arthur Phillip and the First Fleet.  It formed the basis of the vision that all Australians would be treated consistently and fairly under the law.  See further details in our article: Magna Carta: A Vision of Justice and Freedom.

The Rule of Law Institute has also launched a website that observes the legacy of the Magna Carta and the rule of law in Australia, Fiji, India, and Uganda.

Magna Carta Resources

Magna Carta and Human Rights Video

The Magna Carta Poster is accompanied by three videos from the Rule of Law Series by The Hon Kevin Lindgren AM QC that can be used in the classroom


The Rule of Law Education Centre is offering a FREE MAGNA CARTA POSTER PACK and activity pack for new members in Australia.  Click here to become a member and to receive your free goodies.

In the first video, part 1 of the Rule of Law Series, The Hon Kevin Lindgren AM QC discusses the definition of the rule of law and its relationship with human rights.
Video 1 – Defining the Rule of Law (3:51)

In the second video, part 3 of the Rule of Law Series, The Hon Kevin Lindgren AM QC speaks about important clauses from the Magna Carta and their relevance to the rule of law.
Video 2 – The Rule of Law and Magna Carta (4:13)

In the third video, part 4 of the Rule of Law Series, The Hon Kevin Lindgren AM QC, defines the writ of habeas corpus, and provides a discussion of its significance in English law and other common law jurisdictions.
Video 3 – Habeas Corpus and the Petition of Right (6:56)

Magna Carta Classroom Activities

In this section, teachers will find resources explaining how the story of an 800-year-old document influences the way modern Australia is governed today.

Click here to go to more Resources on Magna Carta and Human Right  

Students can learn about the medieval story of King John and how he was forced by his barons to seal an agreement outlining basic expectations regarding liberty and justice for the people of his kingdom. This historical treaty was called The Great Charter, now known as Magna Carta.

This manuscript aimed to protect human rights so long ago and became the genesis of a concept known as the rule of law. By sealing Magna Carta, King John agreed that he himself will also be subject to the law and administer justice fairly. Its legacy underpins important values embedded in government and legal institutions that serve Australian society today, such as the people’s legislatures, the executive government, and judiciary.