Although the Magna Carta pre-dates parliament by some 50 years it was subsequently enacted in 1297 with the passage of Edward 1’s Confirmation of the Great Charter Act, which included the words:
“And we will that if any judgement be given henceforth contrary to the points aforesaid by the justices or by any other (of) our ministers that hold plea before them against the points of the charters it shall be undone and holden for nought.”
The text later includes words to the effect that the “charter of liberties shall be kept on every point.”
This admonition was repeated at the Coronation of the young Henry III:
“…it shall be lawful for everyone in our realm to rise against us and use all the ways and means they can to hinder us…that each and every one shall be bound by our command…so that they shall in no way give attention to us but that they shall do everything that aims at our injury and shall in no way be bound to us until that in which we have transgressed and offenced shall have been by a fitting satisfaction brought again in due state….this having been done let them be obedient to us as they were before.”
Bracton’s great constitutional work written some time between 1235 and 1259, said: “…the law makes the King. Let the King therefore bestow upon the law what the law bestows upon him, namely dominion and power, for there is no King where will rules and not law.”
Sovereignty must - by definition - be absolute and unqualified. It is like the concept “unique” - it cannot be limited. Either a country is sovereign or it is not. Either a monarch is sovereign or not. The title, rank and style “King” is recognition of the physical embodiment of the nation’s sovereignty. It bears no compromise.
In the context of today’s issues, we can either have The Queen as the constitutional head of a sovereign country, or we can have a president of the European Union. But, by definition - and despite John Major’s claim after Maastricht that The Queen was henceforth a citizen of Europe - we cannot have both.
The 37th of the 39 Articles of Religion passed during the reign of Elizabeth I, which still have legal force, and which can be seen in any book of common prayer, says:
"The Queen's Majesty ... is not, and ought not to be, subject to any foreign jurisdiction".
The Supremacy Act 1559 includes the words:
“…all usurped and foreign power and authority…may forever be clearly extinguished, and never used or obeyed in this realm. …no foreign prince, person, prelate, state, or potentate…shall at any time after the last day of this session of Parliament, use, enjoy or exercise any manner of power, jurisdiction, superiority, authority, preeminence or privilege…within this realm, but that henceforth the same shall be clearly abolished out of this realm, for ever.”
The Act of Supremacy is now largely repealed, but its central intentions live on through the use of almost identical words 129 years later, when The Declaration of Rights of 1688 was written. This, too, is a treaty, and not an Act of Parliament. It too, therefore, cannot be repealed by parliament.
The Declaration was engrossed in parliament and enrolled among the rolls of chancery. It has never been listed, however, within the chronological tables of Acts of Parliament - a fact which might be significant.
The Bill of Rights, December 1689, incorporated all the essential clauses of the Declaration of the previous February, and may be argued to form an entrenchment of the Declaration, which severely limits parliament’s ability to make changes. Indeed, it could be held to be doubly entrenched.
Clause 13 lays specific responsibilities upon members of parliament to protect the best interests of the people who elected them:
“And they do claim, demand and insist upon all and singular the premises as their undoubted rights and liberties, and that no declarations, judgments, doings or proceedings to the prejudice of the people in any of the said premises ought in any wise to be drawn hereafter into consequence or example.”
The last paragraph of the Bill includes the words:
“And be it further declared and enacted…that from and after this session of parliament no dispensation by non obstante of or to any statute or any part thereof shall be allowed but that the same shall be held void and of no effect.”