The Magna Carta Project

Original Latin


Nihil detur vel capiatur de cetero pro brevi inquisitionis de vita vel membris, sed gratis concedatur et non negetur.


Nothing is to be given or taken in future for a writ for an inquest concerning life or members, but it is to be given without payment and not denied.

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Commentary for secondary school students

Clause 36 represents a response to the developing use of jury trial to replace trial by combat as the usual means of deciding the guilt or innocence of men accused of felonies, that is, of serious crimes punishable by hanging or mutilation. To secure a jury, it was necessary to obtain a royal writ ordering that jurors be summoned to investigate the case. The justification for this course of action was commonly that the accusation had been made out of malice, an allegation which the jurors were ostensibly required to look into, though in fact they frequently simply convicted the suspect or, much more often, acquitted him. It took time, and a lot of experimentation, for this process to become settled, and in John’s reign there may have been more than one sort of writ in use, while the king and his justices charged varying prices – usually quite modest, but sometimes very high – for issuing a writ, and might sometimes refuse to provide one at all. The purpose of the clause was to ensure that nobody risking life and limb in a royal court was denied jury trial if he wanted it, and in that it appears to have been successful.

Magna Carta 1215
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