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Simon Lee


Lord Denning’s assessment of Magna Carta at its 750th anniversary has stood the test of half a century: “the greatest constitutional document of all times—the foundation of the freedom of the individual against the arbitrary authority of the despot”. His longer, but still succinct, article for The Times for the same anniversary has not been bettered. Yet at the time of Magna Carta’s 800th anniversary we have lost sight of two other works of Lord Denning which could make a distinctive contribution to our current constitutional debates. Whereas Lord Neuberger has linked the real Magna Carta to the fictitious Holy Grail in an entertaining lecture on law and myth, for legal scholars the Holy Grail is a long lost text or case. An earlier essay identified the links between the opening clause of Magna Carta 1215 and s 13 of the Human Rights Act 1998 as worthy of rediscovery. This article presents two further candidates: a neglected lecture on Borrowing from Scotland by Lord Denning in 1961 and a neglected Court of Appeal decision in 1975 applying Magna Carta, in which Lord Denning presided as Master of the Rolls, R v Secretary of State for the Home Office, ex p Phansopkar.[6Between them, they can offer refreshing insights into contemporary constitutional controversies.  

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