The 'Bill of Rights' established
The 16th of December 1689 AD
The Convention Parliament which had offered the crown to William and Mary on February 13 1689 was not legally a Parliament until February 23 when it received royal assent to a bill declaring itself so. Early in its life - March 5 1689 - this newly constituted Parliament decided to enshrine in law the Declaration of Rights under whose terms William and Mary had been offered the crown.
After factional argument and the summer adjournment of Parliament this eventually came about on December 16 1689. This Bill of Rights, more formally An Act Declaring the Rights and Liberties of the Subject and Settling the Succession of the Crown, as the title suggests, added provisions for the succession to William and Mary. The act barred Catholics from the throne, stating that all persons that “shall profess the popish religion, or shall marry a papist, shall be excluded and forever incapable to inherit, possess or enjoy the crown and government of this realm,” a situation that in our more tolerant times rather embarrassingly still applies.
Having stated the misdemeanours of James and his ‘evil counsellors’, the act set out various fundamental rights. The crown could not suspend or dispense with the law. The crown could not levy taxes without Parliament’s consent or for longer than the agreed period. Subjects could petition the monarch without fear of retribution. No standing army could be kept in time of peace, and Protestants could bear arms where necessary for their defence. Election to Parliament should be free; those Parliaments should be elected frequently, without royal interference; and whatever was said during debate in Parliament could be said without fear of subsequent prosecution. And finally that juries should be free of favour, bail set within reasonable limits, and no “cruel or unusual punishment” allowed.
The Bill of rights thus stands at the heart of our uncodified constitution, its import and significance such that it also subsequently informed the constitution of the USA.
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