Birmingham Post President’s Column
19 June 2015


It was the famous son of Birmingham, Tony Hancock, who jokingly asked: “Does Magna Carta mean nothing to you? Did she die in vain?”

Contrary to his worries, the signing of Magna Carta is being celebrated with gusto across the globe.

There is divided opinion on the importance of the Magna Carta of 1215. But there is consensus that it was a significant step on a journey which led to the building of a society where there are equal rights and nobody is above the law.

Lord Denning described Magna Carta as “The greatest constitutional document of all time, the foundation of the freedom of the individual against the arbitrary authority of the despot.”

Yet in this, its 800th anniversary year, these principals are under threat. Changes by successive governments have eroded access to our legal aid system, leaving many without recourse to legal advice or representation.

The legal services community in Birmingham, in the spirit of Magna Carta, regularly give up time to help those in need. A Law Society survey in 2014 revealed that around two-fifths (42 per cent) of solicitors had undertaken at least some pro bono work in the preceding twelve months, working on average 52 pro bono hours with an estimated value of £601m.

But, a word of caution. According to an African parable about babies floating down a river, a young fisherman scrambled to pull the babies out shouting, “We have to get these babies out of the river.” An older fisherman quickly walked away replying, “You help as many of the babies as you can. I’m going upriver to see who’s throwing babies into the river.”

As we seek to help others to pursue justice, we need to focus upriver, on the root causes of the injustice.

We can and must seek to ensure that the rule of law, justice and access to justice are not undermined by the governing powers. The words enshrined in Magna Carta: “To no one deny or delay right or justice,” remain true and long may that continue.