“Article 42” of Magna Carta only existed for a short time

29 January 2021
What was claimed

Article 42 of the Magna Carta 'enshrines' the right to free movement at home and across borders in peacetime.

Our verdict

Wrong. This provision existed in 1215 but it's not part of the most recently signed Magna Carta or modern law.

On Thursday a tweet from The Telegraph claimed “In the UK, the right to free movement at home and across borders, during peacetime, is enshrined in article 42 of the Magna Carta”. The article the tweet was promoting makes a similar claim.

Magna Carta was an agreement between King John and a group of barons about limits on the power of the King of England, originally signed in 1215. The original version only lasted for a few weeks before being quashed by the Pope. We’ve written about this before.

This very first version did have a clause 42 within it which said: “In future it shall be lawful for any man to leave and return to our kingdom unharmed and without fear, by land or water, preserving his allegiance to us, except in time of war, for some short period, for the common benefit of the realm. People that have been imprisoned or outlawed in accordance with the law of the land, people from a country that is at war with us, and merchants - who shall be dealt with as stated above - are excepted from this provision.”

However, as we’ve said this version of the document was quickly overturned and clause 42 did not make it into later versions.

Revised versions were signed by later kings until the 1297 Magna Carta. A few parts of that are still law today and can be found on the government’s official legislation website.

The 1297 version stops at 37 clauses and most of those are no longer part of the law. It does not guarantee a right to freedom of movement and there is no Article 42.

The history of the various versions of Magna Carta is explained by David Carpenter, a Professor of Medieval History at King's College London, on the British Library website.

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