Legal rights and status

This article is written by Shiwangi Singh, a law student from Banasthali University. This article deals with the issues and struggles that prevailed in the United Kingdom for protection of interests of the citizens. It talks about the birth of Constitutional Monarchy which restrained and controlled the power of the crown for a good cause, Parliament coming into power, and the absolute monarchy being demolished.

This article has been published by Sneha Mahawar.


Human Rights are the basic rights that one has simply because one is a human being. These rights are inherent with which a person is born in the world and are equal and inalienable rights. Human Dignity is the base on which these rights lie to protect and safeguard human dignity.

The term ‘Human Rights’ is a modern term, but the principle of human rights draws its roots from age-old society, ever since the creation of humanity. People like philosophers and peace lovers, who worked for humankind and created the wave of human rights, believed every person should enjoy equal rights. These beliefs however emerged due to a feeling of brotherhood, religious teachings, injustices against women, children, war victims, genocide, slavery, and ethnic cleansing which had no legal basis but were only considered moral claims. Later with time, with struggles and protests, the Bill of Rights was incorporated in the constitution of various countries across the world.

Historical textbooks like the Vedic texts, the Puranas, Mahabharata, Arthasastra, and Manusmriti all deal with human rights, about how a kingdom should function, when and when not a war should take place, and they all talk about civil and legal rights. Universal equality was believed even at that time. Gautam Buddha believed in equality and preached his teachings for the well-being of the people without any discrimination on the grounds of social position, power, wealth, or gender, he was the first to include women in the Buddhist sangha.

Historical background of the Bill of Rights

In 1685, after the death of Charles II, the throne was acceded by his brother James II. This was a period when there was extreme tension between the Catholic Christian and the Protestant Christian, James II himself a Catholic wanted to make Catholicism a state religion during a time when Britain was dominantly occupied by the Protestants, but being the king he wanted to suppress the Protestants and wanted to set Catholicism at a great level.

Key difference between Catholics and Protestants

They believe in Christ, Mother Mary, and all other great saints that have lived before in Christianity.They believe only in Christ and consider ‘the Bible’ as their ‘sola scriptura.’
They believe in performing rituals and carrying out symbolic actions in worship.They follow no tradition.
They consider the ‘Pope’ as their head of the worldwide church to whom they would listen and carry out rituals.They consider no one as their head but   only Jesus Christ.
They believe that salvation could be attained through Christ and following rituals and traditions.They believe salvation could be attained only through Jesus Christ.
They believe in idol worship.They don’t believe in idol worship nor do they have idols in their Churches.

There was also considerable friction between the monarchy and the British Parliament. In 1685, King James II discontinued the sessions of the Parliament and recruited many Catholics to various public offices. He believed in the supremacy of freedom of worship for Catholics and appointed Catholic officers to the army. On 5 April 1687, King James II issued a ‘Declaration of Indulgence’ which suspended the religious penal laws; this declaration was made by him without the approval of the Parliament, which showed how he wanted an absolute monarchy. He also increased tax payments to maintain his standing army which brought him into conflict with the Parliament.

The daughter of James II, Mary, was raised as a Protestant and was the rightful heir of the throne until 1688 when James had a son, James Francis Edward Stuart, whom he announced would be raised Catholic. This led to widespread fear of Catholic succession in England for years, and this created outrage among the people and also in the Parliament.

At this point, many eminent leaders of the Parliament wrote to the Dutch leader, William of Orange, a Protestant and husband of Mary, to invade England which would in turn make him the King. William was already planning to take military action against England and this proposal served him as an additional propaganda motive.

After the invasion, James escaped to France where he later died in exile and this eventually made William the King. In 1689, the new Parliament now known as Convention Parliament met and declared William as their King and Mary as their Queen. The King and Queen did not have the powers of absolute monarch now, they had to consult the Parliament before passing any laws. Before William and Mary could be proclaimed king and queen they had to agree to accept the Bill of Rights, which they did in February 1689.

This revolution in history is known as ‘the Glorious Revolution ’, or the Bloodless Revolution took place from 1688 to 1689 in England. It marked the birth of the Constitutional Monarchy where the powers of the Crown were controlled and limited by the Parliament. It planted the seeds for political democracy.

Other historic incidents related to Human Rights

The Tablet of Hammurabi

This was the first codification of all types of laws done by the Babylonian King Hammurabi who lived about four thousand years ago. It is the most complete and extant collection of Babylonian laws which consisted of fair wages, protection of properties, proportionate punishment, justice, and standards on how to live and treat each other. The 282 laws that he created became the basis of the laws that evolved in the West.

Positive law by Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679)

He was the first person who argued that human beings are blessed with their inherent rights because they are human beings and they have the right to live. Positive law stated that law and human rights come from the state.

John Locke (1632-1704)

He said that all the laws of the state stemmed from a constitution, the legal framework of the society. His three main arguments were:

  • Everyone has access to their natural rights which are the right to life, liberty, and property.
  • Governments should be formed by the people, who would protect their rights from criminals.
  • In case the Government fails to carry out its duty, abuses its power or violates its natural rights then the citizens should be empowered to revolt or overthrow the government.

This became a very effective idea behind the American and French revolutions and the             subsequent American Declaration of Independence. It also greatly influenced the Bill of Rights 1689.

Magna Carta (1215)

Magna Carta, meaning ‘ The Great Charter ’, is one of the most famous documents in the world. It was the first document to be put into writing issued in June 1215, It stated the principles of governance saying that the king and his government were not above the law. It sought to prevent the king from exploiting his power and placed limits on royal authority by establishing law as a power in itself. It also influenced the United States constitution.

It marked the start of a democratic rule by:

  • It limited the powers of the Crown.
  • No one can be convicted for any crime without any trial done by the jury and would be punished according to the law.
  • It prohibited the king from levying taxes and capturing properties without the consent of the Parliament.

French Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen (1789)

It marked some of the very important features:

  • Men are born and remain free and equal in rights.
  • Political associations can only be formed with the motive of preserving the natural and inalienable rights of man. These rights are liberty, property, security, and resistance to oppression.
  • The law has the right to prohibit those actions which tend to harm society.
  • No man shall be detained, or arrested except in the cases determined by the law and by following the procedure mentioned in the law.

Every citizen is free to speak, express, write and print their thoughts freely.

The U.S Declaration of Independence (1776)

This document announced the separation of thirteen North American British colonies from Great Britain. The people in the colonies were unhappy that they did not have a say in their government and still had to pay taxes. A famous phrase quoted from the declaration is “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

The 1791 U.S. Bill of Rights guarantees:

  • Freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of the press
  • People will not be unlawfully convicted for the crimes and would undergo a proper trial by the jury which would protect the people from cruel and unusual punishment.
  • It would also protect people from unfair imprisonment.

The Constitution of India

The Indian fight for freedom was also carried out to give the people their natural rights, during the freedom struggle great nationalist leaders promised the Indians that they would be bestowed with equal rights and opportunities after the Independence, and this promise was kept. The Part III of the Indian Constitution embodies the fundamental rights bestowed upon the people of India. These are the right to equality, right to freedom, right against exploitation, right to freedom of religion, cultural and educational rights, right to constitutional remedies, right to privacy, and many others. Part IV of the Constitution, called the Directive Principles, is aimed towards the welfare of the citizens based on justice in social, political, and economic life.

The UN Charter and the United Nations

The first half of the twentieth century was marked with unimaginable suffering, brutality, and cruelty. The century began with the First World War, which led to the formation of an international body, the League of Nations, in 1919, to promote international cooperation, peace and security and to prevent the outbreak of another war. However, the League of Nations failed terribly in preventing the Second World War. The magnitude of destruction in the Second world war was immense to shock the conscience of humanity at a worldwide level. Seeing the consequences of the second world war 50 nations met in San Francisco in 1945 and formed the United Nations Charter, later on, 24th October 1945 The United Nations came into existence. Human Rights were first clearly depicted in the Preamble of this UN Charter. It stated, “to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and nations large and small”. The term ‘human rights’ came into wide use after World War II.

Purpose of introducing the Bill of Rights

The Bill was introduced to fill many purposes, which were:

  • The Bill laid down many rules which limited the powers of the Crown, because the people of England had witnessed the consequences when whole power was entirely vested in the hands of their previous ruler King James II, who levied heavy taxes, interfered into the decisions of the Parliament, gave no religious freedom to the Protestants and was always focused to have an absolute monarchy. It hampered the peace and the Rights of the people.
  • The Bill was articulated with Articles that were primarily focused on the redressal of the grievances caused by King James II.
  • The Bill was brought up to give the people their natural rights, individual rights like freedom of speech, freedom to petition the monarchy, and many others.
  • This Bill ensured religious freedom of the Protestants who were suppressed by James II, deprived of their religious freedom, and were not allowed to keep arms. To destroy the religious orthodoxy created by James II, the Parliament persuaded William of Orange who was a Protestant, so that the throne gets a Protestant successor. This safeguarded the religion which was getting suppressed day by day in the prior rule.
  • It also stated the separation of powers between the Parliament and the Crown, where the King cannot take decisions without referring them to the Parliament, making the Parliament more independent and the King more dependent.

Provisions of the Bill of Rights

The Bill of Rights, 1689 is an English Act of Parliament with the full title ‘An Act Declaring the Rights and Liberties of the Subject and Settling the Succession of the Crown’, the name itself gives us an idea about the provisions that it would have in it.

The Provisions of the Bill can be divided into three segments which were:

  • The misdeeds done by King James II.
  • The articles made for the protection of liberties and the law of people are known as the ‘Declaration of Rights’.
  • A long oath taken by the Prince and the Princess as co-rulers, that confirmed their accession to the throne.

The document began by mentioning that all states are now fully, lawfully, and freely represented in the presence of the prince and princess of Orange William and Mary. It mentioned various misdeeds done by late King James the Second who with help of his evil counsellors, judges, and ministers employed by him tried to undermine the power and authority of the Protestant religion and also harmed the laws and liberties of his kingdom, and they were:

  • King James exploited his power in dispensing and suspending laws without taking approval from the Parliament.
  • He issued a commission and for erecting a court called the Court of Commissioners for Ecclesiastical Causes that included spiritual and religious matters of the Church.
  • He levied high taxes for the benefit of the Crown.
  • He kept a standing army in his kingdom at the time of peace without the consent of the Parliament.
  • He did quartering of soldiers, which means he assigned soldiers to private houses without the consent of the owners who would, in turn, have to look for their maintenance and lodging, and this was not allowed according to the law.
  • He disarmed many protestants at the same time when he allowed arms for the Catholics and also employed them.
  • He violated the freedom of election of members to serve in the Parliament.
  • He prosecuted and gave decisions on many matters which required the decisions of the Parliament.
  • He imposed excessive fines.
  • He gave illegal and cruel punishments to the people.
  • He imposed many fines and captured valuable properties of people even before they were convicted for a crime and presented before the jury for a trial.

After this, it talked about the new rules and regulations that would be imposed, and they were:

  • The Royal or Regal authority cannot suspend any law or execute any law without taking approval from the Parliament, it would be considered illegal.
  • The Royal authority cannot provide new laws and execute them like the late King James, it would be illegal.
  • Commissions like the one which constructed the late Court of Commissioner for Ecclesiastical causes, and courts like these will be considered illegal and harmful.
  • The King cannot keep a standing army in his kingdom during the time of peace without the consent of the Parliament.
  • The Protestants can keep arms with them for defence and as allowed by the law.
  • The Royal authority cannot levy money for the use of the Crown without the consent of the Parliament. The monarch can no longer levy taxes, only Parliament could do this.
  • The members of the Parliament would be elected freely by the choice of the people, and they would have the freedom to elect their representatives freely.
  • People have the freedom of speech and debate.
  • People have the right to petition their matters even in front of the King, and prosecuting someone just for petitioning would be considered illegal.
  • No excessive fines would be imposed nor cruel and unusual punishments would be given to the people.
  • Parliament has the freedom of speech and the Court does not have its jurisdiction over something that is discussed in the Parliament.
  • The grants and promises of fines and forfeitures of a particular person before a conviction would be illegal and void.
  • For the redressal of all the grievances caused before, and for the amending, strengthening, and preserving of the laws, Parliament would be summoned frequently.
  • Roman Catholics could not be the king or queen of England since it was observed that it wasn’t helpful for the safety and welfare of the Protestants.

It was also declared that the flight of King James II will be considered his renouncement to the throne. After this King William and Queen Mary took the oath as co-rulers of England and ensured that the throne would pass from William and Mary to their heirs. This Bill was presented to them on February 13th, 1689 and was enacted later, on December 16th, 1689. 

It was said that The Bill of Rights apart from determining the succession to the throne did set forth some certain points of existing laws and it simply secured the rights of the Englishmen which they already had possessed. Geoffrey Lock in one of his articles stated that the articles of the Bill of the Rights worked as a program for future legislation. The articles mentioned in the Bill of Rights are not a substantive law therefore the Parliament has to get back on it, elaborate, and work on it to convert them into full-scale statutes.

Constitutional monarchy

The English Bill of Rights set the stage for a constitutional monarchy in England, which means the king and queen acts as a head of state but their powers are limited by law. Under this system, the monarchy can not rule without the consent of the Parliament, and the people are given individual rights. Likewise, the two leaders formed a joint monarchy and agreed to give Parliament more rights and power.

In modern-day British constitutional monarchy, the king or queen plays largely a ceremonial part but is represented as the head of the state with great dignity.

Legacy of the English Bill of Rights

The Bill of Rights 1689 was later supplemented in England by the Act of Settlement 1701.

The constitutions of many other countries derived their inspiration from this Bill of Rights. Examples are; the American Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, the U.S. Constitution, the U.S. Bill of Rights, the European Convention on Human Rights, the United Nations, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Some of the similarities are like the U.S. Constitution requires jury trials and prohibits excessive bail and cruel and unusual punishments. The same cruel and unusual punishments are banned under Article 5 in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The articles of New Zealand also hold similarities to the Bill of Rights, as it is stated in Article 1 that no regal authority can suspend or execute laws without the permission of the Parliament. This was cited in one of the cases where the Prime Minister of New Zealand Muldoon was challenged in the court for his decision of abolishing a superannuation scheme established by the New Zealand Superannuation Act, 1974. The Chief Justice of New Zealand mentioned that he had violated Article 1, and his actions were called illegal.

In 1989, two special designs of British two pounds coins were issued to celebrate the tercentenary (three hundredth anniversary) of the Glorious Revolution, one referring to the Bill of Rights and the other to the Claim of Rights. Both the coins had the representation of William and Mary and mace of the House of Commons, one showed the representation of St. Edward’s Crown and the other, the Crown of Scotland.


The Bill of Rights 1689 and the Magna Carta were the two pioneer documents in history that regulated the relations between the Crown, the people, and the Parliament. It showed us how power vested in a single hand could lead to its great misuse. The monarch’s powers got to be controlled by the Parliament and made it a dependent body on the Parliament which would ask for its approval on every matter. The whole world has fought for its civil rights and liberties whether that is India, England, or America. Restraining the rights of the people always leads to great consequences which have been depicted by the struggles of these countries. The English Bill of Rights has also worked as a pioneer for the Constitution of many other countries; the same rules have been picked up by the other countries too. The Bill of Rights started the rule of constitutional monarchy in Great Britain. It depicted that a monarchy cannot rule without the consent of the Parliament. Therefore, this bill increased the strength of the Parliament and decreased the strength of the Crown. It acted as a stepping stone for modern-day democracies.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) 

  1. What are the similar points in the English Bill of Rights and the American Declaration of Independence?
  • All men are created equal and have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, these are unalienable rights that cannot be taken away by the government.
  • Governments obtained their power from the consent of the people.
  1. What was one of the concerns behind the creation of the Bill of Rights?

To restrain, control, or limit the power of the Crown the Bill of The Rights was created, because the CRown retained too much power.

  1. Which king and queen signed the Bill of Rights before being sworn in?

King William of Orange, a dutch leader, and Queen Mary signed the Bill of Rights before being sworn in.

  1. Name the most important Article of the 1689 English Bill of Rights?
  • Frequent summoning of the Parliament and free elections.
  • No taxes would be levied without the authorization of the Parliament.
  • Laws could not be made or removed without the approval of the Parliament.
  • Monarchs can’t interfere with Parliamentary elections and debates.
  1. The Bill of Rights was followed quickly by which act and what was its purpose?

It was followed quickly by the 1689 Mutiny Act, which limited the maintenance of a standing army during peacetime to one year.


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