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Online exhibits: Rule of Law

Without the protection of the law, talk of rights and freedoms is meaningless. Even then, they are fragile and can be curtailed or lost.

Laws can define rights, reconcile competing interests, and prevent the abuse of power. They can also restrict freedom, and the legal system can favour the interests of the rich and powerful.

But the fundamental principle we are governed by is that no-one, however powerful, is above the law. This critical safeguard was enshrined in Magna Carta, in 1215. However, the principle still had to be fought for over the centuries.

Some significant stops along the route of the Rule of Law

1215 Magna Carta
1217 Laws of Forests
1250 Laws of Hywel Dda
1318 Ayr Manuscript
1381 The Peasants' Revolt
1628 Coke's 'Institutes of the Laws of England' published
1679 Habeas Corpus Act
1750 Bow Street Runners, a precursor to the police force
1752 Tyburn last used for executions
1808 Sir Samuel Romilly repeals statute which made theft capital offence
1817 Black Dwarf, satirical magazine, published
1965 Murder (Abolition of the Death Penalty) Act suspends hanging for an experimental period of 5 years
1968 MPs vote to abolish the death penalty for murder permanently
1998 Human Rights Act mandates Right to Life, Prohibition of Torture, Prohibition of Slavery and Forced Labour among other rights and freedoms

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