A Magna Carta Progress

When, nearly two decades ago, we began to tell my grandfather’s story of his journey from Nuremberg to Strasbourg it was as an act of commemoration which we hoped would be warmly received. But changes in the world have transformed the perception of those events and our piece.

In a week when the European Convention on Human Rights has come under increasing scrutiny, as Dominic Raab unveils his proposed Bill of Rights, and intervention by the European Court stalls the export of refugees to Rwanda, Tom Blackmore highlights the shifting sands under his grandfather’s legacy and announces a Progress to inspire and inform.

This week we launched the Magna Carta Progress. This is the name we’ve given to the next performances of Dreams of Peace & Freedom, those leading up to the 75th anniversary of the Convention in November 2025. We’ve chosen that name to place the Convention in the line of documents that throughout British history, have stood for the protection of rights and freedoms. Those documents play their role in the ebb and flow of tyranny, democracy, and the rule of law which is the story of any country.

Maxwell Fyfe was Lord Chancellor when the American Bar Association came to the UK to dedicate their monument to Magna Carta at Runnymede. Welcoming them to Westminster Hall he was able to reaffirm his belief in ‘natural law’ as a foundation to democracy and the rule of law. Elsewhere he explains that human rights are ‘akin’ to his understanding of natural law, providing universal and inalienable rights and freedoms.

In Dreams of Peace & Freedom Sue Casson sets extracts from the Magna Carta early in the piece and concludes by adding a descant setting of the Preamble that Maxwell Fyfe wrote for the European Convention. Both are woven around words from this speech.

In May we performed at Mansfield College, Oxford in support of Justice for Ukraine. It received a powerful response.

What began as a celebration is now a call to arms

Helen Mountfield, Principal of Mansfield College, Oxford

The Principal is right that when, nearly two decades ago, we began to tell my grandfather’s story of his journey from Nuremberg to Strasbourg it was as an act of commemoration which we hoped would be warmly received. But changes in the world have transformed the perception of those events and our piece. This has not made it an easy story to tell.

And now the government has released its’ hounds to hunt out and destroy the Convention, alongside Dominic Raab’s dismantling of the Human Rights Act. This is profoundly disturbing as the lessons learnt by my grandfather at Nuremberg and applied in the drafting of the Convention are junked to the detriment of all. As he wrote:

If our unfortunate generation has proved one thing it has demonstrated that the barbarian is not behind us but always underneath us ready to rise up.

David Maxwell Fyfe

There are documents which stand for something more than their strict content and circumstance. The Magna Carta was issued many times in its first century and invoked in Britain as parliamentary democracy developed and of course in the USA as they defined the independence and constitution. Around the world it stands for freedom. Likewise, the Convention, which as a powerful instrument of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, the international Magna Carta, stands as a beacon of freedom both in Europe and globally. It was a document in which the people of Ireland put their trust.

There are documents that can keep the barbarian at bay.

Sir Peter Gross’ review of the Human Rights Act conducted for Robert Buckland recommended education about human rights as its’ top priority. This review has been cast aside in Dominic Raab’s race to knock out his own Bill of Rights.

We are very keen to get out and tell our story, rather as Arthur inspires a young man at the end of Camelot, the musical:

Ask every person if they’ve heard the story,
and tell it strong and clear if they have not, 
That once there was a fleeting wisp of glory,
Called Camelot

Lyrics from Camelot, Alan Jay Lerner

When I started exploring this story, I was told wisely that what happened in Nuremberg, the Hague, and Strasbourg between 1945 and 1950 were Camelot moments, and were susceptible to fading into ‘fleeting wisps of glory.’ That is a very present risk.

But we don’t have to succumb to this fatalism and nostalgia, which too easily become a screwdriver to power. It’s possible to adapt, revise and improve what’s there. And to build not just a further 75 years of peace, but 75 years of progress in our understanding and respect for one another.

Support our Crowdfunder campaign to inform and inspire with performances of Dreams of Peace & Freedom here.

Find out more about the Magna Carta Progress here.

Explore the history behind ECHR and its source documents here.

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