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Fact/Fiction: Can you use the Magna Carta to get out of lockdown?

Old news, truthfully retold. Social media posters seemed convinced they could get out of lockdown using the 805-year-old royal charter. Are they right?

Magna Carta Fact Fiction illustration

Can the Magna Carta be used as an excuse to get out of lockdown (Credit: Miles Cole)

We all want a way out of lockdown. When most of 2020 has consisted of looking at the same four walls or watching Netflix series that you’d previously disregarded as ‘too much of a commitment’, any (legal) way out will do.

While last week’s news of a Covid-19 vaccine breakthrough was a welcome one, it’s not going to do much to alleviate the current restrictions to our liberties.

So, naturally, some looked to an 805-year-old royal charter instead. We are, of course, talking about the Magna Carta.

Numerous social media users have pointed to Article 61 of the Magna Carta as a way to avoid complying with the lockdown restrictions that were introduced in England on November 5.

There was also a viral video of a Merseyside business owner using the defence to avoid closing during lockdown.

This caught the attention of football manager Joey Barton – no stranger to controversy – who tweeted about the video with the caption: “People having to fight for their existence.”

That tweet attracted the attention of The Independent, which ran the story: “Joey Barton appears to back conspiracy theorist citing the Magna Carta to avoid coronavirus regulations”.

The Magna Carta defence was also used by a hairdresser in the Oakenshaw area of Bradford to defy lockdown. Local newspaper the Bradford Telegraph & Argus covered that story under the headline: “Hair salon in Oakenshaw remains open in defiance of lockdown – here’s why”.

She has since been fined nearly £30,000 for repeatedly breaking the rules, claiming the ancient artefact as her excuse.

But can the Magna Carta chart a path out of lockdown?

FACTS. CHECKED

No. The Magna Carta cannot be used to defy Covid-19 measures.

For starters, not only is article 61 not in use in law today, it didn’t even survive subsequent versions of the royal charter.

The Magna Carta was first agreed by King John of England in 1215 and originally consisted of 63 clauses. It caused a stir and was declared null and void by the Pope, kicking off a civil war.

Subsequent versions were reissued, including in 1225 where it formed the basis of common law, and was incorporated into English statutory law in 1297.

None of these revised versions contained an article 61. And, in fact, only articles one, nine, 29, and 37 are still part of law today with large parts of the Magna Carta repealed by the Statute Law (Repeals) Act 1969.

So we know that article 61 has no legal basis in 2020 – but what did it actually say?

Article 61 applied to 25 barons, not the general public. It gave them the power to “assail” the monarch. It reads: “Any man who so desires may take an oath to obey the commands of the twenty-five barons for the achievement of these ends, and to join with them in assailing us to the utmost of his power.”

So article 61 doesn’t absolve the general public of having to obey the laws of the land, it does require them to follow the 25 barons instead. But the article never made it into law so it is scant defence in the modern day.

As well as a fact check from Full Fact, the Financial Times pointed out that the defence was invalid in their appropriately headlined “Magna Carta offers no way to get out of lockdown”.

And as for the Oakenshaw hairdresser, who had placed a note on the door of her premises stating that she “did not consent” to the lockdown, she was reportedly fined by police for breaching restrictions, as reported by Yahoo!, the Bradford Telegraph & Argus and the Yorkshire Evening Post.

Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic there has been no shortage of misinformation, rumour and fake news on social media. In this case, we can say that you should absolutely question any legal loopholes that are tied to an 805-year-old royal charter.

The legal guidelines and advice are changing throughout the pandemic as cases rise and fall. But, throughout this period of uncertainty, one thing is certain even in 2020 – the Magna Carta is not making a comeback.

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