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The Bill of Rights (a short title) is an act of the Parliament of England, whose title is An Act Declaring the Rights and Liberties of the Subject and Settling the Succession of the Crown. It is often called the English Bill of Rights.

The Bill of Rights was passed by Parliament in December 1689 and was a re-statement in statutory form of the Declaration of Right, presented by the Convention Parliament to William and Mary in March 1688, inviting them to become joint sovereigns of England. It enumerates certain rights to which subjects and permanent residents of a constitutional monarchy were thought to be entitled in the late 17th century, asserting subjects' right to petition the monarch, as well as to have arms in defence. It also sets out—or, in the view of its drafters, restates—certain constitutional requirements of the Crown to seek the consent of the people, as represented in parliament.

Along with the 1701 Act of Settlement the Bill of Rights remains, today, one of the main constitutional laws governing the succession to not only the throne of the United Kingdom, but, following British colonialism, the resultant doctrine of reception, and independence, also to those of the other Commonwealth realms, whether by willing deference to the act as a British statute or as a patriated part of the particular realm's constitution. Since the implementation of the Statute of Westminster in each of the Commonwealth realms (on successive dates from 1931 onwards) the Bill of Rights cannot be altered in any realm except by that realm's own parliament, and then, by convention, and as it touches on the succession to the shared throne, only with the consent of all the other realms.

In the United Kingdom, the Bill of Rights is further accompanied by the Magna Carta, Habeas Corpus Act 1679 and Parliament Acts 1911 and 1949 as some of the basic documents of the uncodified British constitution. A separate but similar document, the Claim of Right Act, applies in Scotlandmarker. Further, a bill of rights has been listed, in Republic of Irelandmarker's Statute Law Revision (Pre-Union), as an English act of parliament to be retained as part of the country's law. The English Bill of Rights 1689 inspired in large part the United States Bill of Rights.

Provisions of the act

The Bill of Rights laid out certain basic rights for (at the time) all Englishmenmarker. These rights continue to apply today, not only in England, but in each of the jurisdictions of the Commonwealth realms as well. The people, embodied in the parliament, are granted immutable civil and political rights through the act, including:

  • Freedom from royal interference with the law. Though the sovereign remains the fount of justice, he or she cannot unilaterally establish new courts or act as a judge.
  • Freedom from taxation by Royal Prerogative. The agreement of parliament became necessary for the implementation of any new taxes.
  • Freedom to petition the monarch.
  • Freedom from the standing army during a time of peace. The agreement of parliament became necessary before the army could be moved against the populace when not at war.
  • Freedom for Protestants to have arms for their own defence, as suitable to their class and as allowed by law.
  • Freedom to elect members of parliament without interference from the sovereign.
  • Freedom of speech and debates; or proceedings in Parliament ought not to be impeached or questioned in any court or place out of Parliament.


Certain acts of James II were also specifically named and declared illegal by the Bill of Rights, while James' flight from England in the wake of the Glorious Revolution was also declared to be an abdication of the throne.

Also, in a prelude to the Act of Settlement to come twelve years later, the Bill of Rights barred Roman Catholics from the throne of England as "it hath been found by experience that it is inconsistent with the safety and welfare of this Protestant kingdom to be governed by a papist prince"; thus William III and Mary II were named as the successors of James VII and II and that the throne would pass from them first to Mary's heirs, then to her sister, Princess Anne of Denmark and her heirs and, further, to any heirs of William by a later marriage. The monarch was further required to swear a coronation oath to maintain the Protestant religion.

Augmentation and effect

The Bill of Rights was later supplemented by the Act of Settlement in 1701 (while the Claim of Right Act in Scotland was supplemented by the Act of Union, 1707). Both the Bill of Rights and the Claim of Right contributed a great deal to the establishment of the concept of parliamentary sovereignty and the curtailment of the powers of the monarch. Leading, ultimately, to the establishment of constitutional monarchy, while also along with the Penal Laws, settle the political and religious turmoil that had convulsed Scotlandmarker, Englandmarker and Irelandmarker in the 17th century.

It was a predecessor of the United States Bill of Rights, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights. For example, as with the Bill of Rights, the US constitution requires jury trials and prohibits excessive bail and "cruel and unusual punishments."

Similarly, "cruel, inhuman or degrading punishments" are banned under Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights. .

The bill continues to be cited in legal proceedings in the Commonwealth realms. For instance, on 21 July 1995 a libel case brought by Neil Hamilton (then a member of parliament) against The Guardian was stopped after Justice May ruled that the Bill of Rights' prohibition on the courts' ability to question parliamentary proceedings would prevent The Guardian from obtaining a fair trial. Section 13 of the Defamation Act, 1996, was subsequently enacted to permit an MP to waive his parliamentary privilege.

The Bill of Rights was also invoked in New Zealandmarker in the 1976 case of Fitzgerald v. Muldoon and Others, which centred on the purporting of newly appointed Prime Minister Robert Muldoon that he would advise the Governor-General to abolish a superannuation scheme established by the New Zealand Superannuation Act, 1974, without new legislation. Muldoon felt that the dissolution would be immediate and he would later introduce a bill in parliament to retroactively make the abolition legal. This claim was challenged in court and the Chief Justice declared that Muldoon's actions were illegal as they had violated Article 1 of the Bill of Rights, which provides "that the pretended power of suspending laws of the execution of laws by regal authority without consent of parliament is illegal."

Two special designs of the Britishmarker commemorative two pound coins were issued in the United Kingdommarker in 1989 to celebrate the tercentenary of the Glorious Revolution. One referred to the Bill of Rights and the other to the Claim of Right. Both depict the Royal Cypher of William and Mary and the mace of the House of Commonsmarker; one also shows a representation of the St. Edward's Crown and, another, the Crown of Scotland.

See also



References

  1. conferred by the Short Titles Act 1896, section 1 and the first schedule
  2. Statute of Westminster; 1931 c.4 22 and 23 Geo 5
  3. Acts Retained
  4. http://www.icons.org.uk/theicons/collection/eccentricity/biography/true-eccentrics
  5. http://www.thegloriousrevolution.org/docs/english%20bill%20of%20rights.htm


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