Edward Coke, Champion of Magna Carta

Sir Edward Coke (1552-1634), one of the greatest English jurists, is best known for his Reports and his four-volume Institutes of the Lawes of England (1628-44), which guided early modern interpretation of Magna Carta. In the Institutes, he affirmed that Magna Carta's protections extended to all Englishmen, and that due process of English common law - including judgment by peers or common trial - was required before depriving one of liberty or possessions. In Dr. Bonham's case, Coke led a majority opinion that the English College of Physicians did not have the power to fine and imprison a doctor, even though that power had been granted by Parliament. In many cases, Coke held, the common law "will control" Acts of Parliament.

Coke's views on judicial review are debated, but he maintained deep faith in the common law as a bulwark against royal power. In 1628, he led a Parliamentary committee that drafted the Petition of Right, one of the great English constitutional documents, which King Charles I was forced to sign. Charles agreed (if only on paper) to uphold Magna Carta and cease taxation without Parliamentary consent, imprisonment without cause, and to end proceedings by martial law and the quartering of soldiers in private houses.