Of the Crusades, the Magna Carta, and Servicemen’s Civil Relief

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Sep 7, 2010 No Comments ›› John Eidsmoe

Of the Crusades, the Magna Carta, and Servicemen’s Civil Relief

Back when I was an active-duty Air Force Judge Advocate, I regularly counseled military personnel and their dependents concerning the Soldiers & Sailors Civil Relief Act of 1940 (http://usmilitary NULL.about NULL.com/cs/sscra/a/sscra NULL.htm), recently amended and renamed as the Servicemen’s Civil Relief Act of 2003 (http://veterans NULL.house NULL.gov/documents/scra NULL.pdf).

The Act provides, among other things, that if a service person is sued while serving on active duty and his military duties would make it difficult or impossible to conduct a defense, he can file a motion to have the proceedings stayed until his term of enlistment is completed.

This act provides much-needed protection for the serviceperson who is sued back home in Missouri while he is away serving in Afghanistan.

But until last night when I was reading the Magna Carta, I did not realize that the concept behind the Servicemen’s Civil Relief Act goes back in time at least to the Crusades.

Section 52 of the Magna Carta (http://www NULL.britannia NULL.com/history/docs/magna2 NULL.html) states in part:

…[W]e shall have respite for the usual crusader’s term; excepting those cases in which a plea was begun or inquest made on our order before we took the cross; when, however, we return from our pilgrimage, or if perhaps we do not undertake it, we will at once do full justice in these matters.

A crusader could be away from home for years with little or no communication from home, and if he returned at all, he might find that his property had been deemed forfeit in a lawsuit of which he had had no knowledge and against which he had been unable to defend. Like the Servicemen’s Relief Act, the provision did not dismiss the lawsuit but rather held it in abeyance until the term of service was finished.

Similarity does not prove relationship, and precedence in time does not prove causation. But it is interesting that this concept goes back at least as early as 1215 AD. If any readers can provide earlier antecedents for this provision, I’d be interested in your results.

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