Ever on the cutting edge of the latest developments in the law, the American Bar Association, Expense Account Division, has announced a conference on the Magna Carta (signed by Bad King John at Runnynose in 1215). Three thousand dollars a head exclusive of hotel and airfare to London may sound a bit steep, but the blurb promises lavish after-hours frolics such as choral evensong in St. Tyburn’s Chapel. Evensong, as you know from Agatha Christie, is a traditional English orgy where someone is sure to end up mysteriously dead in the vicarage, impaled on a didgeridoo.
Squawk advises that if you have three thousand clams to spare, forget the ABA, buy a cheap ticket to London and hang out On Top of Old Bailey all day for free. Afterwards, pick up a fish & chips takeaway at the Damascus Chip Shop by Paddington Station and a 2-quart can of Foster’s at Ye Olde Football Hooligan Off-License, and hole up in Buckingham Palace Value Bed & Breakfast reading A.P. Herbert’s “Uncommon Law: Being 66 Misleading Cases.” This will give you all you need to know about the Great Charter and still leave you with something for the evensong collection plate.
A.P. Herbert (1890-1971), an English lawyer who preferred reforming the law to practicing it, wrote parodies of legal decisions featuring the fearless litigant Albert Haddock and the learned high court judge, Lord Mildew. Although the decisions’ being published in Punch should have been a clue, American jurists soberly cited them as real English cases.
In “Is Magna Carta Law?” Mr. Haddock appeals his fine of two pounds for violation of the Transport and Irritation of Motorists Act, 1920. His eloquent attorney Sir Rowland Wash argues that the Act must be read in conjunction with the Magna Carta provision that “A freeman shall not be amerced [fined] for a small fault, but after the manner of the fault, and for a great fault after the greatness thereof. . .”
The appeal comes before one Mr. Justice Lugg who finds that no one has actually read the Magna Carta for several centuries and that it’s not what it’s cracked up to be. He writes:
“Now in private, and even more in public, life there is no doubt that persons are accustomed to speak loosely of Magna Carta as the enduring foundation of what are known as the liberties of the subject, and to assume that the Charter is as potent a measure to-day as at the time of its origin.
“But, if we examine the Great Charter, as I did for the first time in bed this morning, we are led towards the conclusion that, if this is the foundation of the liberties of the subject, then these liberties are not so numerous as is commonly supposed.”
The Honorable Lugg observes that although the Magna Carta guarantees that “To no man will we sell, to no man deny, to no man delay, justice or right,” in fact, “much justice is sold at quite reasonable prices, and that there are still many citizens who can afford to buy the more expensive brands.” He concludes (with a cite to Lord Mildew) that “so little of the Magna Carta is left, that nothing of the Magna Carta is left,” and fines Mr. Haddock another five pounds.
Let’s hope Mr. Justice Lugg never trains his sights on the Fourth Amendment.