Magna Carta on show at Supreme Court

Hereford Cathedral's chancellor Reverend Canon Chris Pullin is an expert on the Magna Carta. Top left: A replica of the 1215 King John's Writ.
Hereford Cathedral's chancellor Reverend Canon Chris Pullin is an expert on the Magna Carta.PHOTO: REUTERS
Hereford Cathedral's chancellor Reverend Canon Chris Pullin is an expert on the Magna Carta. Top left: A replica of the 1215 King John's Writ.
A replica of the 1215 King John's Writ.PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Historic document that is regarded as laying the foundation of democracy lands in Singapore

The Magna Carta, a revered 13th- century English document which paved the way for the establishment of fundamental human freedoms, will be displayed here in an exhibition at the Supreme Court from Thursday.

Written in mediaeval Latin on a sheepskin parchment, the historic document, which translates to "Great Charter" in English, features in an exhibition touring the world this year to mark its 800th anniversary.

Visitors here will get to see a copy of the Magna Carta, one of four still in existence from 1217, from the Hereford Cathedral in England. The other three are housed in the Bodleian Library in Oxford University.

  • VIEW IT / 800 YEARS OF MAGNA CARTA AND MAGNA CARTA AND US EXHIBITION

  • WHERE: Level B2 Supreme Court Building, 1 Supreme Court Lane

    WHEN: Thursday till next Monday, 8.30am to 8pm daily

    ADMISSION: Free

    INFO: www.gov.uk/government/world/singapore

They will also get to see the only surviving copy of the letter from King John of England to announce the issuing of Magna Carta in 1215.

To accompany this exhibition, the Supreme Court will host a concurrent exhibition titled Magna Carta And Us that details how Singapore's Constitution and rule of law are linked to the Magna Carta.

"This is to celebrate Singapore's 50th year of independence. Our countries also have a shared history," says Reverend Canon Chris Pullin, chancellor of Hereford Cathedral, when asked why the exhibition is travelling here.

While the Magna Carta was first mooted as a peace treaty between King John and his rebel barons and has been re-written several times, some of its clauses laid out fundamental values that resonate today, such as the right of all free men to justice and a fair trial, and the rule of law over all, including the king.

But critics have said that the document's impact has been overstated and, in some cases, misappropriated.

In a New Yorker article published in April, history professor Jill Lepore at Harvard University wrote that the Magna Carta "is on occasion taken out of the closet, dusted off, and put on display to answer a need. Such needs are generally political".

To this, Rev Pullin says: "The Magna Carta is an iconic document. It's symbolic for human aspirations. But within it, there are seeds from which marvellous flowers are grown."

The document has been displayed in cities such as New York, Hong Kong and Beijing.

In Beijing, the exhibition was moved from Renmin University to the residence of the British ambassador with reports suggesting that the move was made because the principles of the document are contrary to the Communist Party's.

But Rev Pullin says the relocation of the exhibition was due to "practical and administrative reasons". He adds that response in the Chinese cities was good, with about 7,000 visitors showing up in Hong Kong and another 4,000 in Guangzhou.

Law professor Kevin Tan, who curated the Singapore leg of the exhibition, says visitors can also view panels about the Magna Carta's history and its importance in the world today.

For instance, there will be information about how the document influenced the American constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

There will also be an image of a new two-pound coin issued by the British Royal Mint to commemorate its 800th year.

Quoting the United States' Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr, Dr Tan says: "We're not celebrating some ancient instrument. We are celebrating a number of clauses in the instrument that contains 'kernels of transcendent significance'."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 18, 2015, with the headline 'Magna Carta on show at Supreme Court'. Print Edition | Subscribe