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|
|Revised text of statute as amended|
|The Bill of Rights|
The Bill of Rights (1689)
|Ratified||December 16, 1689|
|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 that deals with constitutional matters and lays out certain basic civil rights.[nb 1] Passed on 16 December 1689, it is a restatement in statutory form of the Declaration of Right presented by the Convention Parliament to William and Mary in February 1689, 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.
These ideas 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.
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.
Along with the Act of Settlement 1701, the Bill of Rights is still in effect in all Commonwealth realms. Following the Perth Agreement in 2011, legislation amending both of them came into effect across the Commonwealth realms on 26 March 2015.[nb 2]
In the Glorious Revolution of 1688, a group of English Parliamentarians invited the Dutch stadtholder William III of Orange-Nassau (William of Orange) to overthrow King James II of England (James VII of Scotland and James II of Ireland). William's successful invasion with a Dutch fleet and army led to James fleeing to France. In December 1688, William took over the provisional government by appointment of the peers of the realm, as was the legal right of the latter in circumstances when the King was incapacitated, and summoned an assembly of certain members of parliament. This assembly called for an English Convention Parliament to be elected, which convened on 22 January 1689.
Declaration of Right
The proposal to draw up a statement of rights and liberties and James's violation of them was first made on 29 January in the House of Commons, with members arguing that the House "can not answer it to the nation or Prince of Orange till we declare what are the rights invaded" and that William "cannot take it ill if we make conditions to secure ourselves for the future" in order to "do justice to those who sent us hither". On 2 February a committee specially convened reported to the Commons 23 Heads of Grievances, which the Commons approved and added some of their own. However, on 4 February the Commons decided to instruct the committee to differentiate between "such of the general heads, as are introductory of new laws, from those that are declaratory of ancient rights". On 7 February the Commons approved this revised Declaration of Right, and on 8 February instructed the committee to put into a single text the Declaration (with the heads which were "introductory of new laws" removed), the resolution of 28 January and the Lords' proposal for a revised oath of allegiance. It passed the Commons without division.
On 13 February the clerk of the House of Lords read the Declaration of Right and Halifax, in the name of all the estates of the realm, asked William and Mary to accept the throne. William replied for his wife and himself: "We thankfully accept what you have offered us". They then went in procession to the great gate at Whitehall. The Garter King at Arms proclaimed them King and Queen of England, France and Ireland, whereupon they adjourned to the Chapel Royal, with the Bishop of London preaching the sermon. They were crowned on 11 April, swearing an oath to uphold the laws made by Parliament. The Coronation Oath Act 1688 had provided a new coronation oath, whereby the monarchs were to "solemnly promise and swear to govern the people of this kingdom of England, and the dominions thereunto belonging, according to the statutes in parliament agreed on, and the laws and customs of the same". They were also to maintain the laws of God, the true profession of the Gospel, and the Protestant Reformed faith established by law. This replaced an oath which had deferred more to the monarch. The previous oath required the monarch to rule based on "the laws and customs ... granted by the Kings of England".
Provisions of the Act
The Declaration of Right was in December 1689 enacted in an Act of Parliament, the Bill of Rights 1689. The Act asserted "certain ancient rights and liberties" by declaring:
- 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;[nb 3]
- subjects who are Protestants may bear arms for their defence as permitted 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.
The Act declared James' flight from England following the Glorious Revolution to be an abdication of the throne. Furthermore, it listed twelve of James's policies by which James designed to "endeavour to subvert and extirpate the protestant religion, and the laws and liberties of this kingdom". These were:
- by assuming and exercising the dispensing power;
- by prosecuting the Seven Bishops; by establishing of the court of commissioners for ecclesiastical causes;
- by levying money for the crown by pretence of prerogative than the same was granted by Parliament;
- by raising and maintaining a standing army in peacetime without the consent of Parliament;
- by disarming Protestants and arming Catholics contrary to law;
- by violating the election of MPs;
- by prosecuting in the King's Bench for matters cognisable only in Parliament and "divers other arbitrary and illegal courses";
- by employing unqualified persons to serve on juries;
- by requiring an excessive bail for persons committed in criminal cases;
- by imposing excessive fines and "illegal and cruel punishments inflicted";
- by making "several grants and promises made of fines and forfeitures before any conviction or judgment against the person, upon whom the same were to be levied".
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).
Date and title
The Bill of Rights is commonly dated in legal contexts to 1688. This convention arises from the legal fiction (prior to the passage of the Acts of Parliament (Commencement) Act 1793) that an Act of Parliament came into force on the first day of the session in which it was passed. The Bill was therefore deemed to be effective from 13 February 1689 (New Style), or, under the Old Style calendar in use at the time, 13 February 1688. Under the Short Titles Act 1896, the Bill was given the official short title of "The Bill of Rights", without a calendar year suffix.
Augmentation and effect
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. 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. 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,[nb 4] which in turn influenced the Declaration of Independence.
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; 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. 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.
The Bill of Rights was also invoked in New Zealand in the 1976 case of Fitzgerald v Muldoon and Others, 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 authority...is illegal."
- 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.
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.
- Toleration Act 1688
- English Civil War
- Crown and Parliament Recognition Act 1689
- The Financial Revolution
- 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".
- In Quebec the validity of the Canadian parliament's legislation is under judicial review. Blanchfield, Mike (22 July 2013). "Quebec government to mount legal challenge to new royal succession law". National Post 
- 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.
- 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.
- 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;
- That excessive bail ought not to be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
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- "Facts About the Bill of Rights on Its 220th Anniversary". History.com. 15 December 2011. Retrieved 29 September 2012.
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- Horwitz 1977, p. 12.
- Carpenter 1956, pp. 145–146.
- Williams 1960, pp. 37–39.
- "The Convention and Bill of Rights". UK Parliament. Retrieved 2 November 2014.
- Thatcher 1907, pp. 10.
- Williams 1960, pp. 28–29.
- Williams 1960, p. 26.
- Williams 1960, p. 27.
- "Bill of Rights ". legislation.gov.uk. note X1. Retrieved 14 July 2015.
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- "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.
- Maier 1997, pp. 126–28.
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- Carpenter, Edward (1956). The Protestant Bishop. Being the Life of Henry Compton, 1632–1713. Bishop of London. London: Longmans, Green and Co. OCLC 1919768.
- Horwitz, Henry (1977). Parliament, Policy and Politics in the Reign of William III. Manchester University Press. ISBN 978-0-7190-0661-6.
- Maier, Pauline (1997). American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence. New York: Knopf. ISBN 0-679-45492-6.
- Thatcher, Oliver Joseph (ed.) (1907). The library of original sources. University Research Extension.
- Williams, E. N. (1960). The Eighteenth-Century Constitution. 1688–1815. Cambridge University Press. OCLC 1146699.
|Wikisource has original text related to this article:|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to English Bill of Rights of 1689.|
- Text of the Bill of Rights Yale Law School Law Library
- Text of the Bill of Rights 1689 as in force today (including any amendments) within the United Kingdom, from the UK Statute Law Database
- The Parliamentary Archives holds the original document