Magna Carta signed 800 years ago

The Magna Carta was signed near London 800 years ago today. Celebrations were held during the weekend in parts of London. Magna means Great and Carta is a charter or official document.

On June 15th, in the year 1215, King John was forced to sign a document which limited the power of the king. This document was called the Magna Carta. It was revised many times but the main ideas were so important, they are used in most democracies today, including in New Zealand.

The first idea, or principle, was that everybody, including the king, had to obey the laws of the land. The second important principle was the right to a fair trial. Anyone who was accused of a crime, should be judged by a jury of his equals or judged by the law of the land.

These two principles became part of British law, the US Constitution and many legal documents about human rights. Britain’s laws became New Zealand’s laws in 1840. Our laws have changed since then but those two basic principles are still important today.

Today the monarch is Queen Elizabeth II. She has almost no powers. After an election, she asks the winning party leader to form a government. She opens Parliament after the summer holidays and reads a speech in Parliament but it is not her speech. It is the speech of the government. Her main role is ceremonial – giving honours and attending ceremonies.

In New Zealand, the Governor-General is the Queen’s representative. He (or she) has the same role in New Zealand as the Queen does in the UK.

Listen to March 8th 2011 to hear about our present Governor-General.

Vocabulary

• limited – took away some of his powers
• revised – changed a little, improved
• his equals – ordinary people, similar to the person accused of a crime
• jury – in New Zealand, a jury consists of 12 people, men and women
• monarch – king or queen
• her role – her job






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