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The Magna Carta – Early Defender of the Rule of Law

The Magna Carta became known as the Great Charter in part because it sets out, in concrete terms, many of the pillars of the rule of law. It establishes that no one is above the law. It guarantees the freedom of citizens except when prosecuted under the law of the land. It holds that punishment should be proportional to the crime, and guarantees the right of habeas corpus. It guarantees equal justice for all, and establishes more accessible Courts. It is deeply embedded in the history of the Common Law. It is figuratively and literally embedded in the history and tradition of the Law Society of Upper Canada – the organization for which I work.

When I use the terms “literally embedded”, I am referring to a discovery I made the other day. No doubt the anticipation of the Magna Carta Canada 2015 tour has heightened my awareness. On coming into our historic Osgoode Hall through the Benchers’ Entrance, something I have done hundreds of times, I was stopped in my tracks as I crossed over the tile formation of the original corporate seal of the Law Society of Upper Canada that is embedded in the floor at that entrance.

LSUC Emblem

The seal, adopted in 1823, was described in the November 1823 minutes of Convocation (the Board of Governors of the Law Society) as including the words “..Magna Charta Angliae” inscribed upon the ribbon floating round the column [to] indicate the foundation upon which Canadian liberty is established. The tile floor, including the seal and these words, was installed in an 1896 renovation. On looking carefully at the floor that day, I suddenly realized that the Magna Carta reference remains prominently and clearly legible in the tile depiction of that corporate seal. It remains equally prominent in our tradition.

Today, the Law Society of Upper Canada continues to uphold the rule of law, and thereby continues to defend protections codified nearly 800 years ago in the Magna Carta. The Law Society of Upper Canada, established in 1797, now regulates over 46,000 lawyers and over 5,000 paralegals. Our statutory mandate includes the “duty to maintain and advance the cause of justice and the rule of law”.

The Law Society of Upper Canada strives vigorously to fulfil that mandate. Together with others we have recently worked to promote such rule of law matters as ending the use of child soldiers, promoting the application of international human rights law, and celebrating defenders of human rights and the rule of law. When the rule of law is threatened abroad by the targeting of members of the legal profession or the judiciary, the Law Society of Upper Canada speaks out. Through its Human Rights Monitoring Group, the Law Society of Upper Canada intervenes when necessary to ensure that lawyers and judges can carry out their legitimate activities without fear of reprisal, harassment or intimidation.

The Magna Carta enshrined many of the principles of the rule of law centuries ago. But the rule of law is fragile, requiring constant protection. To me, and to the organization of which I am proudly a part, the Magna Carta is the cornerstone of our belief and the passion that animates our work.

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