Celebrating Magna Carta and the rule of law, conference, May 2015 - filmed sessions

The first of the IBA's one-day conferences celebrating Magna Carta took place in Cape Town, South Africa, in May 2015.

Opening remarks and keynote address - The role of lawyers in upholding democracy and upholding the rights of individualsChallenges to judicial independence - Maintaining limits on government power in modern states - The recognition and application of equality

Opening remarks and keynote address

Opening remarks:
David W Rivkin Debevoise & Plimpton, New York; IBA President
Professor PJ Schwikkard Dean of Law School, University of Cape Town, Cape Town
Keynote address:
Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng Constitutional Court of South Africa, Braamfontein

The role of lawyers in upholding democracy and upholding the rights of individuals

Magna Carta, like modern national constitutions and international treaties, pledged that no-one would be denied ‘right or justice’. What was true in 1215 remains true today: the worthy goal of providing justice to all is dependent on lawyers who are willing to hold the state to its word. Lawyers play a key role in ensuring that the rule of law is upheld and that the rights and freedoms guaranteed on paper are enforced in practice.

Sternford Moyo
Sir Jeffrey Jowell QC, Director, Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law, London
Michael Katz ENSafrica, Sandton; Membership Officer, IBA Taxes Committee
Tarik Mossadek Mossadek Law Firm, Casablanca
Trevor Ncube Publisher, Mail & Guardian, Johannesburg

Challenges to judicial independence


Magna Carta’s clause 24 recognised that, for citizens to be free from the tyranny and capriciousness of local officials, lawsuits needed to be heard by independent justices. Clause 39, perhaps the most famous Magna Carta clause, provided that citizens shall be protected by the due process of law conducted by such independent justices. These same principles remain at the heart of effective and fair judicial decision-making. However, courts in many countries continue to face threats to their independence and impartiality, due to government interference, intimidation, corruption, or other pressures.

Justice Richard J Goldstone
Hugh Corder Professor of Public Law, University of Cape Town, Cape Town
Justice Thomas Masuku Past Justice, High Court of Swaziland, Consultant, International Commission of Jurists, Johannesburg
Justice Catherine O’Regan Past Justice, Constitutional Court of South Africa, Cape Town

Maintaining limits on government power in modern states


Magna Carta contains numerous provisions that together convey one clear message: the government is not to be all-powerful, doing as it pleases. Instead, the government must abide by certain limitations designed to protect the populace from abuse. This ideal is the driving force behind the prohibitions on taking property from individuals without consent or compensation, clause 39’s famous rule of law guarantee, and the demand that punishments be proportional to the offence. These principles of limitation are fundamental to free societies in today’s world, but they are regularly tested in this age of terrorism, government surveillance and increased government power.

David W Rivkin
Mourad Ben Dhiab Secretary, African Union Commission on International Law, Addis Ababa
Babatunde Raji Fashola Governor of Lagos State, Lagos
Professor Charles Fombad Institute for International and Comparative Law in Africa, Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria, Pretoria

The recognition and application of equality


Equality was by no means a universal principle at the time of Magna Carta. The Charter espoused the principle of equality, but within groups: most notably, ‘no free man’ would be punished without the ‘lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land’. Today, we apply the principle of equality much more broadly, to include all classes, races, ethnic groups, religions and genders, but the basic principle at the heart of this iconic text – that each individual must be treated as the equal of every other individual under the law – is at the core of a modern free society’s values and a critical part of maintaining a fair democracy.

Gabrielle H Williamson
Dr Tukiya Kankasa-Mabula Deputy Governor Administration, Bank of Zambia, Lusaka
Boma Ozobia Sterling Partnership, Lagos; President Emeritus, Commonwealth Lawyers Association