Bill of Rights 1689

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Bill of Rights 1689
Long title An Act Declaring the Rights and Liberties of the Subject and Settling the Succession of the Crown.
Citation 1 William & Mary Sess 2 c 2
Commencement 1689
Status: Amended
Revised text of statute as amended
The Bill of Rights
English Bill of Rights of 1689.jpg
The Bill of Rights (1688 or 1689)
Created 1689
Ratified December 16, 1689
Location Parliamentary Archives
Author(s) Parliament of England
Purpose Assert the rights of Parliament and the individual, and ensure a Protestant political supremacy.

The Bill of Rights is an Act of the Parliament of England passed on 16 December 1689 in the wake of the Glorious Revolution.[1][note 1] It was a restatement in statutory form of the Declaration of Right presented by the Convention Parliament to William and Mary in February 1689 (or 1688 by Old Style dating), inviting them to become joint sovereigns of England. The Bill of Rights lays down limits on the powers of the monarch and sets out the rights of Parliament, including the requirement for regular parliaments, free elections, and freedom of speech in Parliament. It sets out certain rights of individuals including the prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment and reestablished the liberty of Protestants to have arms for their defence within the rule of law. Furthermore, the Bill of Rights described and condemned several misdeeds of James II of England.[2]

These ideas about rights reflected those of the political thinker John Locke and they quickly became popular in England.[3] 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.

In the United Kingdom, the Bill of Rights is further accompanied by Magna Carta, the Petition of Right, the Habeas Corpus Act 1679 and the 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 1689, applies in Scotland. The Bill of Rights 1689 was one of the inspirations for the United States Bill of Rights.[4]

Along with the Act of Settlement 1701, the Bill of Rights is still in effect in all Commonwealth realms.[5]

Provisions of the Act[edit]

The Bill of Rights dealt with constitutional matters and laid out basic civil rights. Specifically, the Act asserted "certain ancient rights and liberties":[6]

  • laws should not be dispensed with or suspended without the consent of Parliament;
  • no taxes should be levied without the authority of Parliament;
  • the right to petition the monarch should be without fear of retribution;
  • no standing army may be maintained during peacetime without the consent of Parliament;[note 2]
  • Protestant subjects may have arms for their defence as suitable to their class and as allowed by law;
  • the election of members of Parliament should be free;
  • the freedom of speech and debates or proceedings in Parliament should not to be impeached or questioned in any court or place out of Parliament;
  • excessive bail should not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishment inflicted;
  • jurors should be duly impannelled and returned and jurors in high treason trials should be freeholders;
  • promises of fines or forfeitures before conviction are void;
  • Parliaments should be held frequently.

Several acts of James II were named and declared illegal by the Bill of Rights, and James' flight from England following the Glorious Revolution was declared to be an abdication of the throne.

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 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, thereafter, to any heirs of William by a later marriage). Furthermore, William and Mary had been required to swear a new coronation oath to maintain the Protestant religion and rule based on the "the statutes in Parliament agreed on" instead of "the laws and customs ... granted by the Kings of England".[7]

Augmentation and effect[edit]

The Bill of Rights was later supplemented by the Act of Settlement 1701 (which was agreed to by the Parliament of Scotland as part of the Treaty of Union). The Act of Settlement altered the line of succession to the throne laid out in the Bill of Rights.[8] However, 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.[9][10] 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.

The rights expressed in this Act and others became associated with the idea of the rights of Englishmen, and described as Fundamental Laws of England. The Bill of Rights directly influenced the 1776 Virginia Declaration of Rights,[note 3] which in turn influenced the Declaration of Independence.[11]

Although not a comprehensive statement of civil and political liberties, the Bill of Rights stands as one of the landmark documents in the development of civil liberties in the United Kingdom and a model for later, more general, statements of rights;[7] these include the United States Bill of Rights, the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights.[12] For example, as with the Bill of Rights 1689, the US Constitution prohibits excessive bail and "cruel and unusual punishment". Similarly, "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment" is 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 United Kingdom and other 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 hearing. Section 13 of the Defamation Act 1996, was subsequently enacted to permit MPs to waive their parliamentary privilege and thus cite their own speeches if relevant to litigation.[13]

The Bill of Rights was also invoked in New Zealand in the 1976 case of Fitzgerald v. Muldoon and Others,[14] which centred on the purporting of newly appointed Prime Minister Rob 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 illegal."[15]

This Act was retained for the Republic of Ireland by the Statute Law Revision Act 2007 section 2(2)(a),[16] and Part 2 of Schedule 1.[17] Section 2(3) of that Act repealed:

  • all of the Preamble down to "Upon which Letters Elections having been 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.

Modern recognition[edit]

Two special designs of 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 the other the Crown of Scotland.[18]

In May 2011, the Bill of Rights was inscribed in UNESCO's UK Memory of the World Register.[12][19]

As part of the Parliament in the Making programme, the Bill of Rights was on display at the Houses of Parliament in February 2015.[20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Act is cited as "The Bill of Rights" in the United Kingdom, as authorised by section 1 of, and the First Schedule to, the Short Titles Act 1896. Owing to the repeal of those provisions, it is now authorised by section 19(2) of the Interpretation Act 1978. In the Republic of Ireland, it is cited as "The Bill of Rights 1688", as authorised 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".
  2. ^ Arguably, this right is subject to continuing derogation in modern times; see, for example, Armed Forces Act and discussion of the same in Military Covenant.
  3. ^ Section Seven of the Virginia Declaration of Rights reads,
    That all power of suspending laws, or the execution of laws, by any authority, without consent of the representatives of the people, is injurious to their rights and ought not to be exercised.
    which strongly echoes the first two "ancient rights and liberties" asserted in the Bill of Rights 1689:
    That the pretended power of suspending the laws or the execution of laws by regal authority without consent of Parliament is illegal;
    That the pretended power of dispensing with laws or the execution of laws by regal authority, as it hath been assumed and exercised of late, is illegal;
    And the Virginia Declaration's Section Nine,
    That excessive bail ought not to be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
    is borrowed word for word from the Bill of Rights 1689.


  1. ^ Thatcher, Oliver Joseph (ed.) (1907). The library of original sources. University Research Extension. p. 10. 
  2. ^ "Bill of Rights 1689". House of Commons Library. 5 October 2009. p. 3. Retrieved 1 March 2015. 
  3. ^ Schwoerer, Lois G. (October 1990). "Locke, Lockean Ideas, and the Glorious Revolution". Journal of the History of Ideas (University of Pennsylvania Press). Vol. 51 (No. 4): 531–548. Retrieved 5 March 2015. 
  4. ^ "Facts About the Bill of Rights on Its 220th Anniversary". 15 December 2011. Retrieved 29 September 2012. 
  5. ^ Toporoski, Richard (Summer 1996). "Monarchy Canada: The Invisible Crown". Archived from the original on 1997-06-17. 
  6. ^ Williams, E. N. (1960). The Eighteenth-Century Constitution. 1688–1815. Cambridge University Press. pp. 26–29. OCLC 1146699. 
  7. ^ a b "The Convention and Bill of Rights". UK Parliament. Retrieved 2 November 2014. 
  8. ^ "The Act of Settlement". UK Parliament. Retrieved 8 November 2014. 
  9. ^ "Rise of Parliament". The National Archives. Retrieved 2010-08-22. 
  10. ^ "Constitutionalism: America & Beyond". Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP), U.S. Department of State. Retrieved 30 October 2014. The earliest, and perhaps greatest, victory for liberalism was achieved in England. The rising commercial class that had supported the Tudor monarchy in the 16th century led the revolutionary battle in the 17th, and succeeded in establishing the supremacy of Parliament and, eventually, of the House of Commons. What emerged as the distinctive feature of modern constitutionalism was not the insistence on the idea that the king is subject to law (although this concept is an essential attribute of all constitutionalism). This notion was already well established in the Middle Ages. What was distinctive was the establishment of effective means of political control whereby the rule of law might be enforced. Modern constitutionalism was born with the political requirement that representative government depended upon the consent of citizen subjects.... However, as can be seen through provisions in the 1689 Bill of Rights, the English Revolution was fought not just to protect the rights of property (in the narrow sense) but to establish those liberties which liberals believed essential to human dignity and moral worth. The "rights of man" enumerated in the English Bill of Rights gradually were proclaimed beyond the boundaries of England, notably in the American Declaration of Independence of 1776 and in the French Declaration of the Rights of Man in 1789. 
  11. ^ Maier, Pauline (1997). American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence. New York: Knopf. pp. 126–28. ISBN 0-679-45492-6. 
  12. ^ a b 2011 "UK Memory of the World Register". United Kingdom National Commission for UNESCO. 23 May 2011. Retrieved 4 June 2011. 
  13. ^ Alexander Horne; Oonagh Gay (21 May 2014). "Ending the Hamilton Affair?". UK Constitutional Law Association Blog. Retrieved 19 March 2015. 
  14. ^ "The Constitutional Setting". States Services Commission, New Zealand. [dead link]
  15. ^ "The legitimacy of judicial review of executive decision-making". New Zealand Law Society. Archived from the original on 2010-02-04. 
  16. ^ "Statute Law Revision Act 2007 Section 2". Irish Statute Book. 
  17. ^ "Statute Law Revision Act 2007 Schedule 1". Irish Statute Book. 
  18. ^ "Two Pound Coin". The Royal Mint. Retrieved 15 February 2015. 
  19. ^ "Life, death and everything in between". UK Parliament. 23 May 2011. Retrieved 4 June 2011. 
  20. ^ "Magna Carta & Parliament Exhibition". UK Parliament. Retrieved 15 February 2015. 

External links[edit]