Bill of rights

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The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen of 1789 is a fundamental document of the French Revolution and in the history of human rights.
Draft of the United States Bill of Rights, also from 1789

A bill of rights, sometimes called a declaration of rights or a charter of rights, is a list of the most important rights to the citizens of a country. The purpose is to protect those rights against infringement from public officials and private citizens.

Bills of rights may be entrenched or unentrenched. An entrenched bill of rights cannot be amended or repealed by a country's legislature through regular procedure, instead requiring a supermajority or referendum; often it is part of a country's constitution,and therefore subject to special procedures applicable to constitutional amendments. A not entrenched bill of rights is a normal statute law and as such can be modified or repealed by the legislature at will.

In practice, not every jurisdiction enforces the protection of the rights articulated in its bill of rights.


The history of legal charters asserting certain rights for particular groups goes back to the Middle Ages. An example is Magna Carta, an English legal charter agreed between the King and his barons in 1215.[1] In the early modern period, there was renewed interest in Magna Carta.[2] English common law judge Sir Edward Coke revived the idea of rights based on citizenship by arguing that Englishmen had historically enjoyed such rights. The Petition of Right 1628, the Declaration of Right, 1689 and the Bill of Rights 1689 established certain rights in statute.

In America, the English Bill of Rights was one of the influences on the 1776 Virginia Declaration of Rights, which in turn influenced the United States Declaration of Independence later that year.[3]

Inspired by the Age of Enlightenment, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen asserted the universality of rights.[4] It was adopted in 1789 by France's National Constituent Assembly, during the period of the French Revolution.

After the Constitution of the United States was adopted in 1789, the United States Bill of Rights was ratified in 1791.[5][6][7]

The 20th century saw different groups draw on these earlier documents for influence when drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the European Convention on Human Rights and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.[8]

Exceptions in Western democracies

The constitution of the United Kingdom remains uncodified,[1] however the Human Rights Act 1998 incorporates the rights contained in the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law.

Australia is the only common law country with neither a constitutional nor federal legislative bill of rights to protect its citizens, although there is ongoing debate in many of Australia's states.[9][10] In 1973, Federal Attorney-General Lionel Murphy introduced a human rights Bill into parliament, although it was never passed.[11] In 1984, Senator Stephen Bunce drafted a Bill of Rights, but it was never introduced into parliament, and in 1985, Senator Lionel Bowen introduced a bill of rights, which was passed by the House of Representatives, but failed to pass the Senate.[12] Former Australian Prime Minister John Howard has argued against a bill of rights for Australia on the grounds it would transfer power from elected politicians (populist politics) to unelected (constitutional) judges and bureaucrats.[13][14] Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) are the only states and territories to have a human rights Act.[15][16] However, the principle of legality present in the Australian judicial system, seeks to ensure that legislation is interpreted so as not to interfere with basic human rights, unless legislation expressly intends to interfere.[17]

List of bills of rights

The Bill of Rights 1689 is an Act of the Parliament of England asserting certain rights


Specifically targeted documents

See also


  1. ^ a b Rau, Zbigniew; Żurawski vel Grajewski, Przemysław; Tracz-Tryniecki, Marek, eds. (2016). Magna Carta: A Central European Perspective of Our Common Heritage of Freedom. Rutledge. p. xvi. ISBN 1317278593. Britain in its history proposed many pioneering documents - not only Magna Carta, 1215 but those such as the Provisions of Oxford 1258, the Petition of Right 1628, the Bill of Rights 1689, and the Claim of Right 1689 
  2. ^ "From legal document to public myth: Magna Carta in the 17th century". The British Library. Retrieved 2017-10-16 ; "Magna Carta: Magna Carta in the 17th Century". The Society of Antiquaries of London. Retrieved 2017-10-16. 
  3. ^ Maier, Pauline (1997). American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence. New York: Knopf. pp. 126–28. ISBN 0-679-45492-6. 
  4. ^ Liberty, Equality, Fraternity: Exploring the French Revolution. Penn State Press. ISBN 0271040130. 
  5. ^ Schwartz, Bernard (1992). The Great Rights of Mankind: A History of the American Bill of Rights. Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 1–2. ISBN 9780945612285. 
  6. ^ Conley, Patrick T.; States, U. S. Constitution Council of the Thirteen Original (1992). The Bill of Rights and the States: The Colonial and Revolutionary Origins of American Liberties. Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 13–15. ISBN 9780945612292. 
  7. ^ Montoya, Maria; Belmonte, Laura A.; Guarneri, Carl J.; Hackel, Steven; Hartigan-O'Connor, Ellen (2016). Global Americans: A History of the United States. Cengage Learning. p. 116. ISBN 9780618833108. 
  8. ^ Hugh Starkey, Professor of Citizenship and Human Rights Education at UCL Institute of Education, London. "Magna Carta and Human rights legislation". British Library. Retrieved 22 November 2016. 
  9. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-11-10. Retrieved 2013-06-30. 
  10. ^ Anderson, Deb (21 September 2010). "Does Australia need a bill of rights?". The Age. Melbourne. 
  11. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2014-02-13. Retrieved 2014-10-26. 
  12. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2014-02-13. Retrieved 2014-10-26. 
  13. ^ "Howard opposes Bill of Rights". PerthNow. The Sunday Times. 2009-08-27. Retrieved 2009-09-14. 
  14. ^ Howard, John (2009-08-27). "2009 Menzies Lecture by John Howard (full text)". The Australian. News Limited. Retrieved 2009-09-14. 
  15. ^ Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2008 (Vic).
  16. ^ Human Rights Act 2004 (ACT).
  17. ^ Potter v Minahan [1908] HCA 63, (1908) 7 CLR 277, High Court (Australia).
  18. ^ "Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania - 1776". Duquesne University. Retrieved December 29, 2016. 
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