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The Bill of Rights
The Bill of Rights (1688 or 1689)
The Bill of Rights (1688 or 1689)
Created 1689
Ratified December 16,1689
Location National Archives of the United Kingdom
Author(s) Parliament of England
Purpose Ensure certain freedoms and ensure a Protestant political supremacy.

The Bill of Rights[1] or The Bill of Rights 1688[2] is an Act of the Parliament of England passed on 16 December 1689.[3] It was a restatement in statutory form of the Declaration of Right presented by the Convention Parliament to William and Mary in March 1689 (or 1688 by Old Style dating), inviting them to become joint sovereigns of England. It lays down limits on the powers of the crown and sets out the rights of Parliament and rules for freedom of speech in Parliament, the requirement to regular elections to Parliament and the right to petition the monarch without fear of retribution. It reestablished the liberty of Protestants to have arms for their defence within the rule of law, and condemned James II of England for "causing several good subjects being Protestants to be disarmed at the same time when papists were both armed and employed contrary to law".

These ideas about rights reflected those of the political thinker John Locke and they quickly became popular in England. 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 Act of Settlement (1700 or 1701), the Bill of Rights is still in effect. It is one of the main constitutional laws governing the succession to the throne of the United Kingdom and—following British colonialism, the resultant doctrine of reception, and independence—to the thrones of those other Commonwealth realms, by willing deference to the Act as a British statute or as a patriated part of the particular realm's constitution.[4] Since the implementation of the Statute of Westminster 1931 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.[5]

In the United Kingdom, the Bill of Rights is further accompanied by the Magna Carta, the Petition of Right, Habeas Corpus Act 1679 and Parliament Acts 1911 and 1949 as some of the basic documents of the uncodified British constitution.[6] A separate but similar document, the Claim of Right Act, applies in Scotland. The Bill of Rights (1688 or 1689) was one of the inspirations for the United States Bill of Rights.[7]

Provisions of the ActEdit

The Bill of Rights laid out certain basic rights for (at the time) all Englishmen. The Act set out that there should be:

  • no 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.
  • no taxation by Royal Prerogative. The agreement of the parliament became necessary for the implementation of any new taxes
  • freedom to petition the monarch without fear of retribution
  • no standing army may be maintained during a time of peace without the consent of parliament.[8]
  • no royal interference in the freedom of the people to have arms for their own defence as suitable to their class and as allowed by law (simultaneously restoring rights previously taken from Protestants by James II)
  • no royal interference in the election of members of parliament
  • the freedom of speech and debates or proceedings in Parliament ought not to be impeached or questioned in any court or place out of Parliament
  • "grants and promises of fines or forfeitures" before conviction are void
  • no excessive bail or "cruel and unusual" punishments may be imposed

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 effectEdit

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) settling the political and religious turmoil that had convulsed Scotland, England and Ireland in the 17th century.

It was a predecessor of the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, 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 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 constantly change and 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 Zealand in the 1976 case of Fitzgerald v. Muldoon and Others,[9] 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 dispensing with laws or the execution of laws by regal authority...is illegal."[10]

This Act was retained for the Republic of Ireland by section 2(2)(a) of, and Part 2 of Schedule 1 to, the Statute Law Revision Act 2007. Section 2(3) of that Act repealed:

  • all of the Preamble down to "Upon which Letters Elections haveing beene accordingly made"
  • the seventh paragraph after the words "for the Vindicating and Asserting their auntient Rights and Liberties, Declare"
  • all words from "And they doe Claime Demand and Insist" down to, but not including, section 2.

Historical recognitionEdit

Two special designs of the British commemorative two pound coins were issued in the United Kingdom 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 Commons, one also shows a representation of the St Edward's Crown and another the Crown of Scotland.

In May 2011, the Bill of Rights was inscribed in UNESCO's UK Memory of the World Register.[11][12]

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. The citation of this Act by this short title was authorised for the United Kingdom by section 1 of, and the First Schedule to, the Short Titles Act 1896. Due to the repeal of those provisions, it is now authorised by section 19(2) of the Interpretation Act 1978.
  2. The citation of this Act by this short title is authorised for the Republic of Ireland by section 1 of, and the First Schedule to, the Short Titles Act 1896 (as amended by section 5(a) of the Statute Law Revision Act 2007). The short title of this Act was previously "The Bill of Rights".
  3. Thatcher, Oliver Joseph (ed.) (1907). The library of original sources. University Research Extension. p. 10. http://books.google.com/books?id=V67Qe8kAh8oC&pg=PA10&dq=Bill+of+Rights+1689+%22december+16%22#v=onepage&q=Bill%20of%20Rights%201689%20%22december%2016%22&f=false.
  4. Toporoski, Richard (Summer, 1996). "Monarchy Canada: The Invisible Crown". http://www.monarchist.ca/mc/invisibl.htm.
  5. Statute of Westminster; 1931 c.4 22 and 23 Geo 5
  6. The British Constitution - Magna Carta - Icons of England
  7. "Facts About the Bill of Rights on Its 220th Anniversary". History.com. 15 December 2011. http://www.history.com/news/facts-about-the-bill-of-rights-on-its-220th-anniversary. Retrieved 29 September 2012.
  8. Note: Arguably, this right is subject to continuing derogation in modern times; see, e.g. Armed Forces Act and discussion of the same in Military Covenant.
  9. "The Constitutional Setting", States Services Commission, New Zealand
  10. "The legitimacy of judicial review of executive decision-making", New Zealand Law Society
  11. "2011 UK Memory of the World Register", United Kingdom National Commission for UNESCO, 2011. Accessed 4 June 2011.
  12. "Life, death and everything in between", parliament.uk, 23 May 2011. Accessed 4 June 2011.

External linksEdit

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