The 1689 Bill of Rights does not constitute what is generally understood as a modern “bill of rights”, if by that term one means a document which defines and guarantees the basic human rights of individual citizens. Nor is it, on its own, the equivalent of a written constitution, although it can be viewed as a watershed in the development of the British constitution and especially with regard to the role of parliament. It is one of the four great historic documents which regulate the relations between the Crown and the people, the others being: the Magna Carta (as confirmed by Edward I, 1297), the Petition of Right (1627) and the Act of Settlement (1700). To this list of fundamental constitutional documents should be added the recent Human Rights Act 1998.
The Bill of Rights was an historic statute that emerged from the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688-89, which culminated in the exile of King James II and the accession to the throne of William of Orange and Mary. Its intentions were: to depose James II for misgovernment; to determine the succession to the Throne; to curb future arbitrary behavior of the monarch; and to guarantee parliament’s powers vis a vis the Crown, thereby establishing a constitutional monarchy.
The Bill of Rights incorporated the Declaration of Rights and consisted of:
· A declaration by the Commons and the Lords beginning with a list of the misdeeds of James II
· 13 “articles” defining the limitations of the Crown and confirming the rights of Parliament and the individual
· A lengthy passage confirming the accession of William and Mary to the Throne and providing for the succession on their death
· A short section on non-obstante dispensations (Crown licenses to do something non obstante any law to the contrary )