Cameron Invokes Magna Carta in Bid to Replace Human Rights Act

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A detail of the Magna Carta.

Photographer: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

David Cameron used the 800th anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta to argue for the replacement of Britain’s Human Rights Act, one of the pledges he made at last month’s election.

In 1215, England’s barons forced King John to agree to Magna Carta, which guaranteed them and the church certain rights, most importantly access to swift justice and protection from imprisonment. Although the document didn’t protect the ordinary people of the country, it has come to be seen by later generations as a founding text of civil liberties. The prime minister on Monday cited it in his own case for redrawing British human rights law.

“Magna Carta takes on further relevance today,” he said on the site at Runnymede, where King John accepted the historic charter. “Here in Britain -- ironically, the place where those ideas were first set out -- the good name of ‘human rights’ has sometimes become distorted and devalued. It falls to us in this generation to restore the reputation of those rights.”

Ministers are looking for a way to abolish the Human Rights Act, which enshrined in U.K. law the European Convention on Human Rights, and replace it with a British Bill of Rights.

The plan was absent from the government’s legislative agenda for the coming year amid legal argument about how it would be possible. The move is opposed by both the Labour Party, which introduced the act in 1998, and the Liberal Democrats, the Tories’ coalition partners until last month.

Cameron’s new Conservative-majority government is attempting to redraw Britain’s relationship with the European Court of Human Rights, which it blames for being excessively concerned with protecting suspected terrorists and other criminals.