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Parliament celebrates unification of last surviving original copies of Magna Carta and launch of new exhibition


On Thursday 5 February 2015, the four surviving original copies of Magna Carta will be displayed in the Houses of Parliament – bringing together the documents that established the principle of the rule of law in the place where law is made in the UK today.

The four copies of the 1215 Magna Carta manuscripts are being loaned to Parliament for one day by the organisations that hold and display them on a permanent basis – two from the British Library, one from Salisbury Cathedral and one from Lincoln Cathedral – to launch the exhibition ‘Magna Carta & Parliament'. The exhibition will chart the constitutional journey from Magna Carta to today's parliamentary democracy using iconic documents from the Parliamentary Archives, including the Bill of Rights 1689 and the Great Reform Act 1832. The exhibition will be seen by the public visiting Parliament between 9 and 26 February 2015, and elements of it will be on display at venues in the UK as part of the ‘De Montfort project' outreach programme being run by the Parliamentary Archives during 2015.

As part of the celebrations in Parliament, 200 school children from around the country will have the opportunity to see the Magna Carta manuscripts on display, as well as the related exhibition. The one-day event will close with Sir Tim Berners-Lee, who has called for a Magna Carta to protect the rights of users of the World Wide Web, addressing an assembled audience of representatives of the legal profession, Commonwealth and Parliamentarians. The theme of the closing event is the continuing impact of Magna Carta on the rule of law and individual rights around the world.

After the display in Parliament, the Magna Carta manuscripts will be returned to their home institutions, where they will be on display in their own major exhibitions marking the 800th anniversary.

The event is part of a year-long programme of cultural events, activities, education and online resources delivered by the House of Commons and the House of Lords entitled ‘Parliament in the Making'.

The Lord Speaker, Baroness D'Souza, said:

“Magna Carta established the principle of the rule of law and equality before the law; for 800 years we have been influenced by its contents and it remains one of the most important political documents in the world, with countries such as the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Canada tracing constitutional influences back to Magna Carta. How fitting it is, therefore, that we celebrate this exceptional document by uniting the surviving original copies from 1215 in the home of British law-making today.”

The Speaker, Rt Hon John Bercow MP, said:

"Over the past eight centuries the public and their Parliament have shaped society and changed the way we live our lives. The sealing of the Magna Carta in 1215 and the Montfort parliament of 1265 marked the start of the journey towards modern rights and representation, paving the way for the House of Commons and democracy as we know it today. Throughout 2015, the Parliament in the Making programme will commemorate these major anniversaries with public events, activities, and exhibitions across the UK. These anniversaries should be seized upon as the opportunity both to praise our past and focus on our future.”

Claire Breay, Head of Medieval Manuscripts at the British Library, said:

“The 800th anniversary of the granting of Magna Carta in 2015 is a landmark year demonstrating the powerful contemporary resonance of this document, and the British Library will be celebrating it with a major exhibition, Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy opening on 13 March this year, as well as hosting the first ever unification of the four original surviving Magna Carta documents. It is a great pleasure to extend this once-in-a-lifetime event so that it can be enjoyed at Parliament as part of its own celebrations to mark the beginning of government under the law.

The Very Reverend Philip Buckler, Dean of Lincoln Cathedral, said:

“It is fitting that Lincoln Cathedral's Magna Carta, on display these last months at the Library of Congress in Washington DC and today in the Houses of Parliament, should play a role in major events at the heart of both the American and British constitutions before taking centre stage in a new visitor centre at the refurbished Lincoln Castle in 2015, offering visitors fresh perspectives on Magna Carta during its 800th anniversary year.”

The Dean of Salisbury, the Very Reverend June Osborne, said:

"Salisbury's copy of Magna Carta has only once before left the precincts of the cathedral, when it was stored in a quarry for safekeeping during the war. However, we are delighted to recognise this anniversary by supporting the reunification of the four original documents and their display in Parliament.  It will launch a year of celebrations at the heart of which is our gratitude for the rule of law, and all the social virtues which flow from that principle, including our commitments to equality, dignity and the pursuit of justice for all."

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