Treason trial date set for Magna Carta barons
Three of the world’s top judges are set to decide the fate of a group of barons and bishops charged with treason this summer, 800 years after their alleged crime – and people from across the country are being invited to apply to join the public gallery.
On 31 July, a representative group of a dozen or so modern-day barons and bishops will help mark the 800th anniversary of the sealing of Magna Carta by facing a mock trial judged by Lord Neuberger, President of the UK Supreme Court; Dame Sian Elias, Chief Justice of New Zealand; and Hon. Stephen Breyer, Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court.
Advocates recruited from across the Commonwealth will make the cases for the prosecution and defence, arguing over whether the barons and bishops were acting lawfully when they refused to surrender London to King John as they had agreed.
The barons and bishops, it is widely accepted, forced the King to agree to a charter which addressed a number of fiscal concerns close to their hearts, as well as clauses asserting the rule of law and the right to a trial by jury for certain people.
One of the defence witnesses due to be called is Sir Robert Rogers, now Lord Lisvane, who is expected to argue that the House of Commons might not exist today but for the Barons at Runnymede on 15 June 1215. Details of other witnesses will be released in due course.
The two-hour historic mock trial is being organised by the Magna Carta 800th Anniversary Commemoration Committee and the UK Supreme Court, with support from the Royal Commonwealth Society.
The mock trial will take place in Westminster Hall, by the permission of the Lord Great Chamberlain, the Lord Speaker and Mr Speaker.
Around half of the 800 seats available are being opened up to a public ballot, and those keen to witness this historic event are being encouraged to register their interest at http://magnacarta800th.com/projects/trial/.
Tickets are free, but demanded is expected to be high, and a random draw will be undertaken at the end of June to allocate the places.
Sir Robert Worcester, chair of the Magna Carta 800th Anniversary Commemoration Committee, said: “The stage is being set for a show trial that will be more than just a bit of historical themed fun – the evidence being examined by these eminent judges will help explore some timeless questions of legal and constitutional importance. Is the King above the law? Is there ever a defence for breaking a solemn promise?
“We are very grateful to the Parliamentary authorities for allowing use of Westminster Hall for this event, and for the involvement of so many legal professionals.
“I hope people from across the country, of all ages and backgrounds, enter the draw for tickets to come and witness what I am sure will be one of the highlights of this year of commemorations.”