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Magna Carta barons found Not Guilty

04 August 2015

A mock trial in Westminster Hall in London's Palace of Westminster has found representatives of the Magna Carta barons not guilty of treason.

The trial, on 31 July 2015, was before Dame Sian Elias, Chief Justice of New Zealand, Lord Neuberger, President of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, and Justice Stephen Breyer of the United States Supreme Court.

Organised by the UK Supreme Court and the Magna Carta 800th Anniversary Commemoration Committee, the mock trial saw two barristers debating whether King John's actions in the run-up to the sealing of Magna Carta in 1215 justified the terms the barons forced him to agree to, and the extent to which rebellion against the King can be acceptable in the eyes of the law.

A report on the website of the UK Supreme Court says historians suggest there are three types of treason: lèse-majestè (unjustified threatening of the King's life or the betrayal of the realm or the army); proditio (unjustified default of duty which injured the King or any unjustified plotting against the King); and infidelitas (unjustified violation of an oath of fidelity to the King).

Lord Neuberger concluded two concurring judgments by Justice Breyer and Dame Sian, sparing the barons from a terrible fate. 

He said: "In relation to each type of treason, it is necessary to show that the action complained of was 'unjustified'. For the reasons given so eloquently and clearly by my two colleagues, I would hold that, in all the circumstances, the prosecution has failed to show that the defendants' actions were unjustified. Accordingly, I, too, would acquit Baron Fitzwalter and the other 24 defendants of the charge of the treason."

Last updated on the 16th September 2019