My favourite memory of the Magna Carta involved a group of refugees who had recently arrived in Australia after spending years being kept in the detention centre on Nauru. I’d visited them while they were incarcerated in Nauru, where they were uncertain of their future – not knowing how long they would be locked up or where they might end up, and under repeated pressure from the Australian government of the day to go ‘back home.’ After much suffering (not to mention great financial cost), their refugee claims were eventually recognised and the Howard government allowed them to settle in Australia.
When some of them settled in Canberra, I took the chance to take a group of them on a tour of Parliament House and see a sitting of the Senate – the place of much debate over the treatment of refugees such as them. Whilst they were being shown around parts of Parliament House by one of the excellent tour guides who work there, we were taken to one of the four known copies of the 1297 version of the Magna Carta which is on permanent display there. Without a hint of irony, the tour guide told the assembled group of refugees (including interpreter) that the Magna Carta was a historic document because it guaranteed under our system of law that people could not be jailed without charge or trial.