This year is the 800th Anniversary of Magna Carta or ‘The Great Charter’ which is one of the most celebrated documents in history. Its legacy includes a profound influence on international commercial arbitration.

King John of England ruled from 1199 to 1216. He inherited the Angevin Empire, named after the title of his father, Henry II, as Count of Anjou and its seat in Angers. The empire included the west coast of France, from Rouen in the north to Tarbes in the south. John lost much of this territory in the early years of his reign and spent the next decade or so attempting to regain it, raising huge revenues and reforming his armed forces in the process. In the midst of all this, John fell out with Pope Innocent III and was excommunicated in 1209, which he resolved in 1213 by surrendering his kingdom to the pope and becoming the pope’s vassal.

None of this played well at home and a great number of his hitherto loyal barons submitted a great number of grievances to the King. Negotiations took place in the Temple in London in early 1215, which were unsuccessful, and the rebel barons renounced their oaths of allegiance to King John, took up arms and took London.

In what might be described as a modern response, the parties explored ADR. First, Pope Innocent III admonished the Archbishop of Canterbury for not conducting a mediation between the factions. Then, the King offered to refer the dispute to arbitration to Pope Innocent III and to be bound by the result.

It was only upon the failure of these steps did King John embark upon peace talks. It is an irony, is it not, that one of the greatest contributions to the common law came about by dint of the failed attempt to resolve matters via ADR?

Jul-Sep 2015 issue