February 21, 2006

English Bill of Rights 1689

The Bill of rights, you can get the text here. If you don't like reading then here is the English Bill of Rights as MP4 (2.46 MB). The drafters really didn't like Roman Catholics, but there are also some bits that I think would be really good for maintaining liberty which I have extracted bellow.

First is a set of things that lead to the removal of King James II and are therefore considered illegal for the government:
By assuming and exercising a power of dispensing with and suspending of laws and the execution of laws without consent of Parliament;

By committing and prosecuting divers worthy prelates for humbly petitioning to be excused from concurring to the said assumed power;
So the government cannot simply make up laws as they think fit
By levying money for and to the use of the Crown by pretence of prerogative for other time and in other manner than the same was granted by Parliament;

By violating the freedom of election of members to serve in Parliament;
or arbitarily creating taxes to fund government activity. It needs the consent of Parliament as a representative of the governed.

On the way the governed themselves where treated
And illegal and cruel punishments inflicted

And several grants and promises made of fines and forfeitures before any conviction or judgment against the persons upon whom the same were to be levied;
You cannot punish somebody without a trail, and that punishment cannot be excessive compared to the crime.

Then they get to spelling out some things that are explicitly illegal for government
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
Again the government cannot simply make up laws as it goes along without parliament, or make up taxes to pay for them as:
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

That it is the right of the subjects to petition the king, and all commitments and prosecutions for such petitioning are illegal
I guess this in a modern context would be to give you the right contact your MP.

That election of members of Parliament ought to be free;
But interestingly not explicitly fair, perhaps they where worried about how fair would be judged?

That all grants and promises of fines and forfeitures of particular persons before conviction are illegal and void
So that is again no punishment before trial.

Things are not all sweetness and light in this document, and not just the pervasive anti-Catholic tone. Anti-Catholocism is an artifact of the time this was written but it certainly stands out clearly compared to today. Some of the other more controversial parts will probably be the right to bear arms as spelt out by one of the fault found with King James
By causing several good subjects being Protestants to be disarmed at the same time when papists were both armed and employed contrary to law
and more explictly
That the subjects which are Protestants may have arms for their defence suitable to their conditions and as allowed by law;


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