Law Society president Andrew Caplen reflects on the legacy of Magna Carta in the USA as we approach the 800th anniversary next year.

“In August I attended the American Bar Association’s annual meeting in Boston. With over 7,000 lawyers from the US and beyond it was a great opportunity to discuss issues affecting the profession around the world.

One recurring theme was Magna Carta and its enduring legacy as we approach its 800th anniversary next year. This document steeped in English history has spread far beyond our shores. In the giant halls of the conference ‘EXPO’ I had the chance to visit the Library of Congress’ travelling Magna Carta exhibit, making its debut before continuing its journey from Boston to public buildings, law schools and bar associations around the country. Outside the conference walls, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts was showing one of the four surviving copies of the original Magna Carta, sitting alongside two manuscript copies of the Declaration of Independence as a reminder of its inspiration for the US Constitution and Bill of Rights.

The themes at the ABA annual conference very much reflected the practise and concerns of today’s lawyers, but it struck me how many of those themes resonated with the history of Magna Carta. I joined the presidents of the ABA, UIA and France to discuss the impact of mass surveillance on professional privilege. In my remarks, I echoed calls by Sir Tim Berners-Lee for the development of a ‘digital bill of rights’ in each country. I said that ‘the development of a global digital Magna Carta is an international effort that we consider should command the support of lawyers, their bar associations and law societies worldwide’. I look forward to continuing this discussion at the Global Law Summit where the Law Society is sponsoring a session on this topic.

The American legal profession will celebrate the Magna Carta anniversary with events throughout the year in the US and in England. I am delighted that the ABA Section of International Law is a partner to the Global Law Summit and we look forward to welcoming the ABA to London in June for their own celebrations including a trip to Runnymede where the Magna Carta was sealed.

From my time in Boston it was clear that what unites us as a legal profession wherever we practise is our belief in the rule of law and access to justice. Next year’s anniversary celebrations are a timely reminder of this.

I look forward to welcoming you to London for the Global Law Summit.”