The Metric Martyrs have saved Magna Carta
It is one thing for Lord Falconer to brush aside all the legal confusion over Prince Charles's wedding plans simply by pronouncing that they are within the law after all. Quite another thing is the constitutional elephant trap that the Government has unwittingly walked into with its Prevention of Terrorism Bill, which will allow citizens to be placed under house arrest by fiat of the Home Secretary, Charles Clarke.
This drives a coach and horses through Magna Carta, which rules that "no freeman shall be arrested or detained in prison or deprived of his liberty – except by the judgment of his peers". And no doubt Lord Falconer and his colleagues might argue that it would be ridiculous to allow some fusty 800-year-old document to overrule the right of Mr Clarke in the 21st century to imprison his victims without permission of the courts.
What Mr Clarke has overlooked, however, is the landmark judgment given three years ago in the case of the "Metric Martyrs", in which Lord Justice Laws named Magna Carta, alongside the Bill of Rights, as a "constitutional statute", which cannot be overridden by any subsequent legislation, unless this is explicitly the will of Parliament.
It was on this principle that Steve Thoburn was found guilty of the criminal offence of selling bananas by the pound, because the judge ruled that the European Communities Act of 1972, under which metric weights and measures were made compulsory, was a "constitutional statute". It therefore could not be overridden by the later 1985 Weights and Measures Act, which permitted the continued selling of goods in pounds and ounces.
If Mr Clarke wishes to overrule Magna Carta, according to Lord Justice Laws's ruling of 2002, he must therefore make this explicit in his Prevention of Terrorism Bill. Parliament must be given the chance to decide that in this respect it wishes to override Magna Carta.
If Mr Clarke refuses to accept the relevance of Laws's judgment, then, as Neil Herron, the director of the Metric Martyrs Defence Fund, points out, the whole case against the Martyrs collapses and their convictions must be overturned.
Even if, to avoid such embarrassment, Mr Clarke does ask Parliament explicitly to set aside the relevant section of Magna Carta, he will then be advised that the Great Charter was not an Act of Parliament that can be repealed by a subsequent parliament. It was a contract in perpetuity between the sovereign and the people, which Parliament cannot undo.
Whichever way the Government plays it, in its continuing assault on the constitutional rights of the British people, this time it is stuffed.