16th June 2015 Oslo, Norway
Celebrating Historic Documents
By HM Ambassador Sarah Gillett
I arrived in Norway last year a couple of months after the 200th anniversary of Norway’s 1814 constitution. But the significance of the occasion reverberated long after 17 May 2014. And last week it was wonderful to witness Eidsvoll, where the constitution was signed, receive one of the prestigious Europa Nostra heritage awards.
This week the United Kingdom has been celebrating the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, which was sealed at Runnymede on 15 June 1215.
The history of the document after this date is a troubled one. It was disregarded, annulled, then brought back into use, enshrined into law, and much amended. Only four of the original Magna Carta clauses remain part of our statute law; ones which cover protection from arbitrary arrest, forbid the sale of justice, and provide the basis for trial by jury.
Notwithstanding its troubled history, the document remains enormously important to our political fabric. For the British, who to this day do not have a constitution contained in a single document, Magna Carta is the historical beginning of accountable government. It enshrined the principles that everyone is subject to the rule of law, and that individuals and institutions have rights and freedoms.
Those principles are also enshrined of course in the Norwegian constitution, And they constitute the essence of the values on which Norway and Britain base their global outlook, as well as their domestic governance.
So I see significant parallels between the ways which in which the Norwegian Constitution and Magna Carta are celebrated. What lies behind the celebration is an appreciation of how we live in countries characterised by democratic government, the rule of law, and strongly supported constitutional monarchs – conditions forged by history, not magic.