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This Article is written by Subhashmin Moharana, National Law University, Odisha


This paper examines the intertwined relationship between compromise and two foundational documents in the history of governance: the Magna Carta and the Constitution. The Magna Carta, signed in 1215, laid the groundwork for principles such as individual rights and limitations on royal power. Centuries later, the Constitution of the United States, ratified in 1788, established a framework for governance that continues to shape the American political system. Both documents reflect a nation of compromise, where competing interests were negotiated to achieve a balance of power and protect the rights of individuals. This paper explores the historical context, key principles, comparative analysis, and the impact and legacy of the Magna Carta and the Constitution. It delves into the compromises made during their creation, highlighting the significance of these compromises in addressing specific grievances and balancing competing interests. Additionally, the paper examines the ongoing challenges and criticisms faced by both documents, including issues of inclusivity, interpretation, and contemporary relevance. Ultimately, this study underscores the enduring importance of compromise in the formation and application of these foundational documents, which continue to shape legal systems and inspire democratic ideals globally.

Keywords: Magna Carta, Compromise, Constitution, India, Fundamental Rights.

I. The Magna carta

The Magna Carta[1], also known as the Great Charter, is a historic document that was signed by King John of England in 1215. It is considered one of the most significant legal and constitutional documents in the history of democratic governance. The Magna Carta was not a constitution in the modern sense, but rather a series of written promises and agreements between the king and his barons. The origins of the Magna Carta can be traced back to the political turmoil and conflicts between King John and the feudal barons. Dissatisfied with King John’s arbitrary rule and heavy taxation, the barons sought to limit the king’s powers and protect their own rights. In response to their demands, King John was forced to negotiate and agree to a set of concessions, resulting in the signing of the Magna Carta. The Magna Carta consisted of 63 clauses, addressing a range of issues such as the protection of individual rights, limitations on royal power, and the establishment of principles of justice. While many of the provisions were specific to the concerns of the barons at that time, some principles within the document have had far-reaching implications and have influenced the development of legal systems around the world. One of the most enduring principles of the Magna Carta is the concept of the rule of law. It established the idea that no one, not even the king, is above the law. It introduced the principle of due process, which ensures fair treatment and protects individuals from arbitrary punishment. The Magna Carta also introduced the concept of habeas corpus, which prevents unlawful imprisonment by ensuring that a person has the right to challenge their detention before a court. Furthermore, the Magna Carta established the principle of property rights and protected the rights of widows and heirs. It limited the ability of the king to impose excessive fines and taxes without the consent of the barons. It also laid the foundation for the development of representative institutions, as it required the king to consult with the barons before imposing major decisions or levying taxes. Although the original Magna Carta had limited immediate impact, it became a symbol of the fundamental rights and liberties of individuals. Over the centuries, it was reissued, revised, and reinterpreted, eventually becoming a cornerstone of English constitutional law. It influenced subsequent legal documents, including the English Bill of Rights in 1689 and the United States Constitution. The legacy of the Magna Carta extends beyond the borders of England. It has inspired the development of constitutional and legal systems worldwide, emphasizing the importance of protecting individual rights, limiting government powers, and upholding the rule of law. The principles embodied in the Magna Carta continue to be relevant and influential in the modern era, serving as a reminder of the enduring value of compromise and the protection of individual liberties in a democratic society.

The constitution

The Indian Constitution is the supreme law of India that lays down the framework for the political system, the rights and duties of the citizens, and the powers and functions of the government institutions¹. It is the longest written national constitution in the world.

The Indian Constitution was adopted by the Constituent Assembly of India on November 26, 1949, after almost three years of deliberations and drafting. The Constituent Assembly was a body of elected representatives from various regions and communities of India, which also included prominent leaders like B.R. Ambedkar, Jawaharlal Nehru, Rajendra Prasad, and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. The Constituent Assembly was influenced by various sources, such as the Government of India Act 1935, the Indian Independence Act 1947, and the constitutions of other countries like the USA, UK, France, Ireland, Canada, and Australia.

The Indian Constitution came into effect on January 26, 1950[2], marking the transition of India from a dominion to a republic. On this day, the people of India also celebrated their first Republic Day. The Constitution declared India as a sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic with a parliamentary system of government. It also provided for a federal structure with a strong centre and a bicameral legislature. The Constitution also guaranteed six fundamental rights to all citizens and laid down the directive principles of state policy for promoting social welfare and justice.

The Indian Constitution is a result of a compromise between the demands of the states and the principles of the nation. One of the key features of the Constitution is the Fundamental Rights, which are enshrined in Part III (Articles 12-35). These rights are inspired by the Bill of Rights in the US Constitution and are also called the Magna Carta of India. The Magna Carta was a charter of rights issued by King John of England in 1215, which was also a compromise between the king and his subjects.

The Fundamental Rights[3] guarantee six basic freedoms to all persons: right to equality, right to freedom, right against exploitation, right to freedom of religion, cultural and educational rights, and right to constitutional remedies. These rights are not absolute but subject to reasonable restrictions by the state. They are also enforceable by the courts and can be suspended during a national emergency.

The Fundamental Rights reflect the aspirations of the people and the ideals of democracy. They protect the rights and liberties of the citizens from the arbitrary actions of the state. They also promote social justice and national integration by ensuring equality and dignity for all.

III. The Concept of Compromise

Compromise is an essential aspect of democratic governance and decision-making processes. It involves finding a middle ground or reaching a mutually acceptable agreement between conflicting parties or interests. Here are a few reasons why compromise is important:

1. Resolving Conflicts: Compromise helps resolve conflicts and disagreements by finding common ground between opposing viewpoints. It allows for peaceful and constructive negotiations, preventing disputes from escalating into more significant conflicts.

2. Balancing Interests: In any society, diverse interests and perspectives exist. Compromise allows for the consideration of various viewpoints and the balancing of conflicting interests. It ensures that no single group or individual dominates decision-making processes, promoting fairness and inclusivity.

3. Building Consensus: Compromise fosters consensus-building, where different stakeholders work together to find shared solutions. It promotes cooperation, trust, and collaboration, enhancing the overall effectiveness and legitimacy of decision-making.

4. Practicality and Pragmatism: Compromise acknowledges the practical limitations and complexities of real-world issues. It recognizes that absolute adherence to one extreme position may not be feasible or desirable. Compromise enables pragmatic solutions that can be implemented and yield positive outcomes.

5. Progress and Change: Compromise is often necessary for progress and societal advancement. It allows for incremental changes and reforms by accommodating diverse opinions and adapting to evolving circumstances. Compromise enables societies to adapt to new challenges and address emerging needs.

6. Maintaining Social Cohesion: Compromise helps maintain social cohesion by fostering a sense of unity and shared purpose. It promotes social stability and harmony by ensuring that different groups have their voices heard and their interests considered in decision-making.

7. Preserving Relationships: Compromise plays a crucial role in preserving relationships, both personal and political. By finding common ground and accommodating differing perspectives, compromise reduces animosity and fosters positive interactions, allowing for ongoing cooperation and collaboration.

8. Practical Governance: Compromise is essential for effective governance. In democratic systems, it enables the functioning of legislative bodies, the enactment of laws, and the implementation of policies that reflect a broad range of perspectives. It allows for the smooth functioning of institutions and promotes the public interest.

Compromise is necessary in democratic societies because it helps resolve conflicts, balances diverse interests, builds consensus, acknowledges practicality, enables progress, maintains social cohesion, preserves relationships, and facilitates practical governance. It is a fundamental tool for navigating differences and finding mutually beneficial solutions to complex problems.

Key principles

A. Protection of person rights and liberties:

1. Habeas Corpus: Habeas corpus may be a legitimate rule that guarantees a person’s right to challenge their detainment or detainment. It avoids illegal or subjective detainment by requiring the government to legitimize the lawfulness of a person’s restriction some time recently a court.

2. Due Process: Due prepare alludes to the reasonable treatment of people inside the legal system. It ensures that people have the proper to take note of the charges against them, the proper to a reasonable and fair-minded hearing, and the opportunity to display their case and protect themselves some time recently an unbiased judge or jury.

3. Freedom of Discourse, Religion, and Assembly: These fundamental rights ensure individuals’ freedom of expression, religion, and tranquil get together. Flexibility of discourse guarantees the correct to specific suppositions and concepts without government censorship or striking back. Flexibility of religion secures individuals’ rights to hone their chosen religion or hold no devout convictions. Opportunity of gathering permits people to assemble and calmly dissent or express their views.

B. Division of powers:

1. Official, Administrative, and Legal Branches: The rule of division of powers isolates the powers of government into three branches to avoid the concentration of control in any one department. The official department is dependable for upholding laws, the administrative department makes laws, and the legal department translates laws.

2. Checks and Balances: Checks and equalizations give instruments for each department of government to constrain the powers of the other branches. This framework guarantees that no single department gets to be as well capable which they can check and control each other’s activities. For case, the president can reject enactment passed by Congress, but Congress can abrogate the reject with an adequate majority.

C. Rule of law:

1. Equality Before the Law: The rule of balance some time recently the law guarantees that all people, in any case of their social status or position, are subject to the same laws and get rise to treatment beneath those laws. It advances decency and denies separation based on variables such as race, sex, or financial status.

2. Supremacy of the Constitution: The concept of matchless quality of the Structure implies that the Structure is the most noteworthy law of the arrive, and all other laws and government activities must comply with its arrangements. It builds up a system for the work out of legislative powers and serves as a defend against subjective run the show.

D. Limited government:

1. Federalism and State Sovereignty: Federalism divides powers between a central government and regional or state governments. It allows for a balance between central authority and local autonomy, granting certain powers to the federal government while reserving others for the states. State sovereignty recognizes the rights and powers of individual states within a federal system.

2. Enumerated Powers: The principle of enumerated powers outlines that the government’s authority is limited to only those powers expressly granted to it by the Constitution. It ensures that the government operates within defined boundaries and cannot exceed its designated powers.

These principles are integral to the Magna Carta and the Constitution, providing a framework for the protection of individual rights, the division of powers, the establishment of the rule of law, and the limitation of government authority. They serve as the cornerstone of democratic governance and are fundamental to the functioning of modern legal and political systems.

V. Compromises within the Magna Carta

A. Negotiations between King John and the barons:

The Magna Carta was the result of negotiations between King John of England and a group of rebellious barons. The barons, who were discontent with King John’s oppressive rule and heavy taxation, confronted the king and presented him with a list of demands. These negotiations took place in 1215 at Runnymede, a meadow along the River Thames.

B. Clauses addressing specific grievances:

The Magna Carta consisted of a series of clauses that addressed specific grievances raised by the barons. These grievances included issues such as excessive feudal payments, unlawful imprisonment, and abuses of royal power. The clauses sought to address these concerns and establish principles of good governance and fairness.

C. Balancing of royal power and baronial privileges:

The Magna Carta aimed to strike a balance between the powers of the king and the privileges of the barons. While the barons sought to limit the king’s authority, they also recognized the need for a central authority to govern the realm. The Magna Carta established certain rights and limitations on the king’s powers, ensuring that he governed within agreed-upon boundaries and respecting the rights and privileges of the barons.

The clauses of the Magna Carta touched upon various aspects of governance, including matters of land tenure, inheritance, taxation, and administration of justice. By addressing specific grievances and establishing principles of good governance, the Magna Carta set a precedent for future legal and constitutional development, laying the foundation for the protection of individual rights and the limitation of royal power.

VII. Comparative Analysis

Similarities between Magna Carta and the Indian Constitution are:

– Both documents aim to protect the rights and liberties of the people from arbitrary or oppressive actions by the state or its agents.

– Both documents contain provisions for equality before law and equal protection of law, which are essential for ensuring justice and fairness.

– Both documents recognize the right to life and personal liberty as a basic human right that cannot be violated without due process of law.

– Both documents grant some degree of freedom of religion and conscience to the people, subject to public order and morality.

Differences between Magna Carta and the Indian Constitution are:

– Magna Carta[4] was a result of a rebellion by the barons against an absolute monarch, while the Indian Constitution was a product of a constituent assembly that represented various sections of society after a long struggle for independence from colonial rule.

– Magna Carta was a brief and vague document that contained only 63 clauses, while the Indian Constitution is a lengthy and elaborate document that contains 395 articles and 12 schedules.

– Magna Carta was mainly concerned with the rights and privileges of the feudal nobility and the church, while the Indian Constitution covers a wide range of rights and duties for all citizens, including social, economic and cultural rights.

– Magna Carta did not have any mechanism for its enforcement or amendment, while the Indian Constitution has an independent judiciary and a flexible amendment procedure to ensure its supremacy and relevance.

 VI. Challenges and Criticisms:

A. Inclusivity and equality: One of the challenges and criticisms faced by both the Magna Carta and the Constitution is the issue of inclusivity and equality. Both documents were products of their time and did not initially extend full rights and protections to all individuals, such as women, enslaved people, and indigenous populations. Over time, efforts have been made to address these gaps and expand inclusivity and equality through amendments, legal interpretations, and social movements. However, ongoing challenges remain in ensuring equal rights and opportunities for all individuals within the framework of these documents.

B. Interpreting and amending the Constitution: The Constitution of the United States, being a living document, has faced ongoing debates and challenges regarding its interpretation and amendment. Different interpretations can lead to divergent understandings of rights, powers, and the role of government. Additionally, the process of amending the Constitution can be complex and require broad consensus, making it challenging to adapt the document to address emerging issues and changing societal norms. Striking a balance between stability and adaptability is an ongoing challenge faced by those responsible for interpreting and amending the Constitution.

C. Addressing contemporary issues: The Magna Carta and the Constitution were written in different historical contexts, and both face challenges in addressing contemporary issues. As societies have evolved, new challenges have emerged, such as technological advancements, globalization, environmental concerns, and social inequalities. Adapting the principles and values enshrined in these foundational documents to effectively address these complex issues can be a challenging task. Critics argue that the Magna Carta and the Constitution should be seen as frameworks that need to evolve and be interpreted in a way that reflects the changing needs and realities of modern society.

In summary, challenges and criticisms faced by the Magna Carta and the Constitution include the need for greater inclusivity and equality[5], ongoing debates over interpretation and amendment, and the task of effectively addressing contemporary issues. Recognizing and addressing these challenges is crucial to ensure that these historic documents remain relevant and responsive to the evolving needs and aspirations of societies they serve.

Some important Cases

Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala[6]:

This landmark case dealt with the doctrine of basic structure in Indian constitutional law. The Supreme Court held that there are certain fundamental features of the Constitution that cannot be amended by the Parliament.

Behram Khurshid v. State of Bombay[7]:

This case dealt with the interpretation of Article 25 of the Indian Constitution, which guarantees the right to freedom of religion. The Supreme Court held that the right to religion includes the freedom to practice and propagate one’s religion.

State of Madras v. Champakam Dorairajan[8]:

This case dealt with the issue of discrimination based on caste in educational admissions. The Supreme Court held that the government’s order reserving seats based on caste was unconstitutional as it violated the principle of equality.

Navtej Singh Johar v. Union of India[9]:

This case dealt with the decriminalization of consensual same-sex relationships in India. The Supreme Court declared that Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which criminalized homosexuality, was unconstitutional.

Joseph Shine v. Union of India[10]:

This case dealt with the validity of Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code, which criminalized adultery. The Supreme Court struck down the provision, stating that it violated the fundamental rights of equality and privacy.

 Mr. X v. Hospital Z[11]: This case dealt with the issue of medical negligence and the liability of hospitals. The Supreme Court held that a hospital is liable for the negligence of its employees, including doctors and nurses, under the principle of vicarious liability.


In conclusion, the Magna Carta and the Constitution have left a lasting impact and legacy on the development of legal and political systems. They have influenced nations around the world, serving as a source of inspiration for the protection of individual rights and the establishment of democratic governance. Both documents have evolved and been interpreted over time to address the changing needs and values of society. The Magna Carta set the stage for the recognition of fundamental rights and limitations on governmental power, while the Constitution of the United States established a framework for a federal system with a separation of powers and the safeguarding of individual liberties.  However, challenges and criticisms persist. Issues of inclusivity and equality continue to be important considerations, as both documents initially fell short in extending full rights to marginalized groups. The process of interpreting and amending the Constitution remains a topic of debate, as different perspectives shape the understanding and application of its principles. Moreover, addressing contemporary issues within the framework of these documents requires ongoing adaptation and interpretation. Despite these challenges, the Magna Carta and the Constitution remain relevant and important. They provide a foundation for the protection of individual rights, the balance of powers, and the rule of law. Their principles continue to guide legal systems, inspire democratic movements, and serve as a reminder of the value of compromise and collective governance.

Ultimately, the Magna Carta and the Constitution serve as reminders that the pursuit of a nation of compromise requires ongoing efforts to reconcile differing interests, ensure inclusivity and equality, interpret and adapt to contemporary challenges, and uphold the core values of justice, liberty, and the common good.

[1] Painter, Sidney. “Magna Carta.” The American Historical Review 53, no. 1 (1947): 42-49.

[2] “Constitution of India,” available at: https://www.india.gov.in/my-government/constitution-india  (last visited on [3/06/23]).

[3] “Fundamental Rights (Part-1),” available at: https://www.drishtiias.com/subject-notes-mainmenu-63/mains-subject-wise/polity/6-indian-polity/3097-fundamental-rights-part-1  (last visited on [3/06/23]).

 [4] “Magna Carta of India – Part III of Indian Constitution,” Law Corner, available at: https://lawcorner.in/magna-carta-of-india-part-iii-of-indian-constitution/  (last visited on 6th June 2023).

[5] De Villiers, Bertus. “Directive principles of state policy and fundamental rights: The Indian experience.” South African Journal on Human Rights 8, no. 1 (1992): 29-49. This paper talks about how India compromised with its privileges to make room for its people by granting certain fundamental rights to them which can be also followed in South Africa.

[6] Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala, AIR 1973 SC 1461

[7] Behram Khurshid v. State of Bombay, AIR 1955 SC 123

[8] State of Madras v. Champakam Dorairajan, AIR 1951 SC 226

[9] Navtej Singh Johar v. Union of India, AIR 2018 SC 4321

[10] Joseph Shine v. Union of India, 2018 SCC OnLine SC 1676

[11] Mr. X v. Hospital Z, AIR 1991 SC 495


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