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Duchy or County - how would a modern Magna Carta look in Cornwall?

19 February 2008

Philip Hosking (Cornwall, The Cornish Democrat): Jack Straw gave a speech at the George Washington University about the UK's and USA's constitutional heritage and what a British Bill of Rights and Responsibilities might look like. The talk was entitled "Modernising the Magna Carta" - full article here.

The Independent has also produced an article on the United Kingdoms constitution called; Why doesn't the UK have a written constitution, and does it matter? In the article Nigel Morris writes: "Britain's constitution has developed in haphazard fashion, building on common law, case law, historical documents, Acts of Parliament and European legislation." Haphazard seems just a little euphemistic to me, but anyway: what would this constitutional arrangement look like to the people of Cornwall if written down and how would our Cornish Duchy figure in it?

If written, it would include:

The Duke of Cornwall shall be the heir apparent. He shall have Cornwall as a Duchy and the right to control or intervene in proceedings affecting his rights, property or profits. Within Cornwall, He shall have the right to the King's Writ and Summons of Exchequer, intestate estates, bona vacantia, foreshore, treasure trove, the stannaries, gold and silver and Tintagel Castle (amongst other properties). The Duke and the Duchy of Cornwall shall have the right to a Trial at Bar, crown immunity from prosecution and exemption from the Land Registration, planning and Freedom of Information Acts. H.M. Treasury shall regulate as required by the Duchy of Cornwall Management Acts 1863-1982

Doesn't much look like the constitution of a modern and egalitarian democracy does it? The situation, as it stands today, has this feudal relic giving the heir to the throne unaccountable and undemocratic powers to the prejudice of the indigenous people of Cornwall as revealed here by the Cornish Stannary Parliament.

A new constitution will have to tackle the 'national' question in an equitable manner for all the constituent peoples of the UK as well as its crown dependencies and protectorates, but it would, of course, not be the first time that this question has been treated in the constitutional construction of the English and later UK state.

One previous settlement, whilst providing the heir to the English throne with an income - thus relieving the English tax payer of the burden - recognised Cornwall's distinct position in the emerging state. The Duchy which it created is still with us today and is one of the 'haphazard' developments that governs us in a much less than transparent way.

Some have suggested that the process of writing a British constitution would be cathartic if conducted in a genuinely inclusive fashion. I totally agree, and would add that the Cornish public should be active participants in deciding the future of the Duchy, Cornwall and its constitutional position within any future state. Following Cornwall's popular call for devolution, and the growing celebration of its identity, surely removing its last vestiges of constitutional recognition without public consultation would be as unjust as maintaining the that which exists.

A just and modern accommodation of Cornwall demands an open and inclusive discussion with the Cornish people, something that, to date, we have been denied. Simply trying to force this round British territorial peg into a square English county hole is never going to work and shouldn't be tried.

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