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Rhetoric and Reality: From Magna Carta to human rights today

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The Magna Carta, sealed in 1215, has come to stand for the rule of law, curbs on executive power and the freedom to enjoy basic liberties. When the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations in 1948, it was heralded as 'a Magna Carta for all human-kind'. Yet in the year in which this medieval Charter's 800th birthday is widely celebrated, the future of the UK's commitment to international human rights standards is in doubt.

Why is it that features which are lauded as ‘totemic’ in the Magna Carta are condemned as ‘dangerous’ when applied today? Are human rights palatable in a mature democracy only when they are associated with an ancient English document with minimal legal impact? Are universal values commendable as a benchmark by which to judge the rest of the world, but unacceptable when applied ‘at home’?

In A Magna Carta for all Humanity: homing in on human rights, published by Routledge to coincide with the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, Professor Francesca Klug invites us to consider what is distinctive about the ethic and practice of universal human rights. The author takes us on a journey through time, exploring such topics as 'British values', 'natural rights', 'enlightenment values' and legal rights'.

This event celebrates the launch of A Magna Carta for all Humanity: homing in on human rights, and brings together Francesca Klug and Shami Chakrabarti in a public conversation, chaired by Jane Gordon. Join some of the UK's leading human rights thinkers and advocates in exploring the ethic behind universal human rights and deconstructing the current debate in the UK on the future of human rights protection.

The Speakers

Shami Chakrabarti is Director of Liberty and author of On Liberty, Penguin 2014.

Francesca Klug is a Professorial Research Fellow and Director of the Human Rights Futures Project at the LSE Centre for the Study of Human Rights. As a Senior Research Fellow at the Human Rights Incorporation Project at King’s College Law School in the 1990s she advised the government on the model for incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law reflected in the Human Rights Act. Francesca was a Commissioner on the Equality and Human Rights Commission from 2006-09 and was a member of the small Bill of Rights and Responsibilities Reference Group at the Ministry of Justice from 2007-09. She is a member of Political Quarterly’s editorial board and a former Chair, and now trustee, of the British Institute of Human Rights. Professor Klug is the author of numerous publications and has researched, written and lectured on human rights for twenty five years.

Jane Gordon (chair) is Visiting Fellow in the Centre for the Study of Human Rights and an independent human rights barrister. She has over fifteen years’ experience working in human rights law, policy and practice at the domestic, regional and international levels. Jane is Co-Founder and Legal Director of Sisters For Change.

Event recording

Video and audio recordings of the event

Summary of Tweets via Storify

Shami Chakrabarti Francesca Klug

Book cover