1902 Encyclopedia > Bill of Rights

Bill of Rights

BILL OF RIGHTS. On the 13th February 1688-89 the Declaration of Right was delivered by the Lords and Commons to the prince and princess of Orange. In October 1689 the rights claimed by the declaration were onacted with some alterations by the Bill of Rights, 1 Will, and M., sess. 2, c. 2, next to Magna Charta the greatest landmark in the constitutional history of England and the nearest approach to the written constitutions of other ocountries. The Act (the full name of which is " An Act declaring the Rights and Liberties of the Subject, and settling the Succession of the Crown "), after reciting the unconstitutional proceedings of James II., the abdication of that king, the consequent vacancy of the crown, and the summons of the convention parliament, declared, on the part of the Lords and Commons, " for the vindicating and asserting their ancient rights and liberties—

"1. That the pretended power of suspending of laws or the execu-tion of laws by regal authority without consent of parliament is illegal. 2. That the pretended power of dispensing with laws or the execu-tion of laws by regal authority, as it hath been assumed and exer-cised of late, is illegal. 3. That the commission for erecting the late court of commissioners for ecclesiastical causes, and all other commissions and courts of like nature, are illegal and pernicious. 4. That levying money for or to the use of the crown, by pretence of prerogative, without grant of parliament, for longer time or in other manner than the same is or shall be granted, is illegal. 5. That it is the right of the subjects to petition the king, and all commitments and prosecutions for such petitioning are illegal. 6. That the raising or keeping a standing army within the kingdom in time of peace, unless it be with consent of parliament, is against law. 7. That the subjects which are Protestants may have arms for their defence suitable to their conditions, and as allowed by law. 8. That elections of members of parliament ought to be free. 9. That 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. 10. That excessive bail ought not to be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punish-ments inflicted. 11. That jurors ought to be duly impanelled and returned, and jurors which pass upon men in trials for high treason ought to be freeholders. 12. That all grants and promises of fines .and forfeitures of particular persons before conviction are illegal and void. 13. And that for redress of all grievances, and for the amending, strengthening, and preserving of the laws, parliament oought to be held frequently. And they do claim, demand, and insist upon all and singular the premises, as their undoubted rights and liberties."

The further provisions of the Act were concerned with the settlement of the crown upon the prince and princess of Orange, with the exception of § 12, which negatived the right of dispensation by non obstante to or of any statute or any part thereof, unless a dispensation be allowed in the statute itself or by bill or bills to be passed during the then session of parliament. An example of an Act giving a odispensing power is 7 & 8 Will. III., c. 37, by which the oorown is empowered to grant licences to hold in mortmain -non obstante the Mortmain Acts.

It is to bo noticed that the Declaration of Right and the Bill of Rights introduced no new principle into the English constitution. In the words of Lord Macaulay, " the Declaration of Right, though it made nothing law which had not been law before, contained the germ of every good law which has been passed during more than a century and a half, of every good law which may hereafter in the course of ages be found necessary to promote the public weal, and to satisfy the demands of public opinion" (History of England, vol. ii. p. 396). In the United States, the main provisions of the Bill of Rights, so far as they are applicable, have been adopted both in the constitution of the United States and in the State constitutions.

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