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Bill of Rights 1689

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Title: Bill of Rights 1689  
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Subject: Glorious Revolution, Constitution of the United Kingdom, Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, History of human rights, Act of Settlement 1701
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Bill of Rights 1689

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

The Bill of Rights[1] is an Act of the Parliament of England passed on 16 December 1689.[2] 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 for 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 laws".

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.

In the United Kingdom, the Bill of Rights is further accompanied by the 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.[3]

Along with the Act of Settlement 1701, the Bill of Rights is still in effect in all Commonwealth realms.[4]

Provisions of the Act

The Bill of Rights dealt with constitutional matters and laid out certain basic civil rights. The Act stated 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.[5]
  • 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
  • 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 punishment may be imposed.

Several acts of James II were specifically named and declared illegal by the Bill of Rights, and James' flight from England in the wake of the Glorious Revolution was 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 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. 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 1701 (while the Claim of Right Act 1689 in Scotland was supplemented by the Acts 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.

The rights conferred by 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 1] which in turn influenced the Declaration of Independence.

Although not a revolutionary statement of universal liberties, the Bill of Rights stands as one of the landmark documents in the development of civil liberties in England and a model for later, more general, statements of rights;[6] 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.[7] 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,[8] 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 illegal."[9]

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 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.

Historical recognition

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 another the Crown of Scotland.

In May 2011, the Bill of Rights was inscribed in UNESCO's UK Memory of the World Register.[7][10]

See also


  1. ^ 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. ^ 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. ^ Thatcher, Oliver Joseph (ed.) (1907). The library of original sources. University Research Extension. p. 10. 
  3. ^ "Facts About the Bill of Rights on Its 220th Anniversary".  
  4. ^ Toporoski, Richard (Summer 1996). : The Invisible Crown"Monarchy Canada". 
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ "The Convention and Bill of Rights". UK Parliament. Retrieved 2 November 2014. 
  7. ^ a b "2011 UK Memory of the World Register", United Kingdom National Commission for UNESCO, 2011. Accessed 4 June 2011.
  8. ^ "The Constitutional Setting", States Services Commission, New Zealand
  9. ^ "The legitimacy of judicial review of executive decision-making", New Zealand Law Society
  10. ^ "Life, death and everything in between",, 23 May 2011. Accessed 4 June 2011.

External links

  • Text of the Bill of Rights
  • 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 of this Historic Record
  • British Library feature on the Bill of Rights
  • National Archives feature on the Bill of Rights
  • UK Parliament feature on the Bill of Rights
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