The English Bill of Rights 1689 is an Act of the Parliament of England (1 Will. & Mar. sess. 2 c. 2) with the long title An Act Declaring the Rights and Liberties of the Subject and Settling the Succession of the Crown and also known by its short title, the Bill of Rights. It is one of the basic documents of English constitutional law, alongside Magna Carta, the Act of Settlement and the Parliament Acts. It also forms part of the law of some other Commonwealth nations, such as New Zealand and Canada. A separate but similar document applies in Scotland: the Claim of Right.
The Bill of Rights 1689 is largely a statement of certain positive rights that its authors considered that citizens and/or residents of a constitutional monarchy ought to have. It asserts the Subject's right to petition the Monarch and the Subject's right to bear arms for defence. It also sets out (or in the view of its writers, restates) certain constitutional requirements where the actions of the Crown require the consent of the governed as represented in Parliament. In this respect, it differs from other "bills of rights," including the United States Bill of Rights, though many elements of the first eight amendments to the U.S. Constitution echo its contents. This is in part due to the uncodified constitutional traditions of the UK, whereby the English Bill of Rights forms a list of rights in respect of the people as represented in Parliament, in addition to those rights already provided for individuals as set out in Magna Carta.
The basic tenets of the Bill of Rights 1689 are:
Englishmen, as embodied by Parliament, possessed certain immutable civil and political rights. These included:
- freedom from royal interference with the law (the Sovereign was forbidden to establish his own courts or to act as a judge himself)
freedom from taxation by royal prerogative, without agreement by Parliament
freedom to petition the Monarch
freedom from a peace-time standing army, without agreement by Parliament
freedom [for Protestants] to have arms for defence, as allowed by law
freedom to elect members of Parliament without interference from the Sovereign
the freedom of speech in Parliament, in that proceedings in Parliament were not to be questioned in the courts or in any body outside Parliament itself (the basis of modern parliamentary privilege)
freedom from cruel and unusual punishments, and excessive bail
freedom from fines and forfeitures without trial
Certain acts of James II were specifically named and declared illegal on this basis.
The flight of James from England in the wake of the Glorious Revolution amounted to abdication of the throne.
Roman Catholics could not be king or queen of England since "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". The Sovereign was required to swear a coronation oath to maintain the Protestant religion.
William and Mary were the successors of James.
Succession should pass to the heirs of Mary, then to Mary's sister Princess Anne of Denmark and her heirs, then to any heirs of William by a later marriage.
The Sovereign was required to summon Parliament frequently, later reinforced by the Triennial Act 1694.