Bill of rights

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.[1]

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

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 An entrenched bill of rights cannot be amended or repealed by a country's legislature through regular procedure, instead requiring a supermajority or referendum; often it is part of a country's constitution, and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.


The history of legal charters asserting certain rights for particular groups goes back to the Middle Ages and earlier. An example is the Magna Carta, an English legal charter agreed between the King and his barons in 1215.[2] In the early modern period, there was renewed interest in the Magna Carta.[3] 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 Habeas Corpus Act 1679 and the Bill of Rights 1689 (English Bill of Rights) established certain rights in statute.

In the Thirteen Colonies, 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.[4][5] After the Constitution of the United States was adopted in 1789, the United States Bill of Rights was ratified in 1791. The U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights were influenced by British constitutional history.[6][7][8]

Inspired by the Age of Enlightenment, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen asserted the universality of rights.[9] It was adopted in 1789 by France's National Constituent Assembly, during the period of the French Revolution.

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.[10]

Exceptions in Western democracies

The constitution of the United Kingdom remains uncodified.[2] However, the Bill of Rights of 1689 is part of UK law. The Human Rights Act 1998 also incorporates the rights contained in the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law. Recent infringements of liberty, democracy and the rule of law have led to demands for a new comprehensive British Bill of Rights upheld by a new independent Supreme Court with the power to nullify government laws and policies violating its terms.[11]

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.[12][13] In 1973, Federal Attorney-General Lionel Murphy introduced a human rights Bill into parliament, although it was never passed.[14] In 1984, Senator Gareth Evans 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.[14] 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 to unelected judges and bureaucrats.[15][16] Victoria, Queensland and the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) are the only states and territories to have a human rights Act.[17][18][19] 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.[20]

List of bills of rights

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


Title Effective Year Realm Notes
Charter of Liberties 1100 England Rights of inheritance and marriage, amnesty, and environmental protection
Magna Carta 1215 England Rights for barons
Great Charter of Ireland 1216  Ireland Rights for barons
Golden Bull of 1222 1222 Hungary Rights for nobles
Statute of Kalisz 1264 Poland Jewish residents' rights
Charter of Kortenberg 1312 Brabant Rights for all citizens "rich and poor"
Dušan's Code 1349 Serbia
Twelve Articles 1525 Swabian League
Pacta conventa 1573 Poland–Lithuania
Henrician Articles 1573 Poland–Lithuania
Petition of Right 1628  England
Bill of Rights 1689
Claim of Right Act 1689
1689  England Scotland This applied to all British Colonies of the time, and was later entrenched in the laws of those colonies that became nations—for instance in Australia with the Colonial Laws Validity Act 1865 and reconfirmed by the Statute of Westminster 1931
Virginia Declaration of Rights 1776  United States:  Virginia June 1776, Preamble to the United States Declaration of Independence, July 1776
Chapter 1 of the Pennsylvania Constitution 1776  United States:  Pennsylvania July 1776[21]
Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen 1789  France
Bill of Rights of the United States Constitution 1791  United States Completed in 1789, ratified in 1791
Declaration of the Rights of the People 1811 Venezuela
Article I of the Constitution of Connecticut 1818  United States:  Connecticut
Constitution of Greece 1822  Greece
Hatt-ı Hümayun 1856  Ottoman Empire
Article I of the Constitution of Texas 1875  United States:  Texas
Basic rights and liberties in Finland 1919  Finland
Articles 13-28 of the Constitution of Italy 1947  Italy
Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948  United Nations
Fundamental rights and duties of citizens in People's Republic of China 1949  People's Republic of China
Fundamental Rights of Indian citizens 1950  India
European Convention on Human Rights 1953  Council of Europe Drafted in 1950
Part I of the Constitution of Portugal 1976  Portugal
Implied Bill of Rights (a theory in Canadian constitutional law) 1982  Canada for the date
Canadian Bill of Rights 1960  Canada
International Bill of Human Rights 1976  United Nations
Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms 1976  Canada:  Quebec
Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms 1982  Canada
Declaration of the Basic Duties of ASEAN Peoples and Governments 1983  ASEAN Signed in Manila by the Regional Council on Human Rights in Asia, the first to draft a pan-Asian declaration of human rights
Article III and XIII of the Constitution of the Philippines 1987  Philippines The Bill of Rights encapsulating Article III regulates duties and responsibilities of the government toward the rights of citizens, while Article XIII is specifically about human rights and social justice
Article 5 of the Constitution of Brazil 1988  Brazil
New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990  New Zealand
Charter of Fundamental Rights and Basic Freedoms of the Czech Republic 1991  Czech Republic
Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance 1991  Hong Kong
Chapter 2 of the Constitution of South Africa 1996  South Africa Entitled "Bill of Rights"
Human Rights Act 1998 1998  United Kingdom
Human Rights Act 2004 2004  Australia:  Australian Capital Territory
Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union 2005  European Union
Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities 2006  Australia:  Victoria
Chapter Four of the Constitution of Zimbabwe 2013  Zimbabwe
Queensland Human Rights Act 2018 2019  Australia:  Queensland

Specifically targeted documents

See also


  1. Sellers, Mortimer N. S.; Sellers, Mortimer N. S. (2014), Haeck, Yves; Brems, Eva (eds.), "Universal Human Rights Law in the United States", Human Rights and Civil Liberties in the 21st Century, Dordrecht: Springer Netherlands, vol. 30, pp. 15–35, doi:10.1007/978-94-007-7599-2_2, ISBN 978-94-007-7598-5, retrieved 2021-02-21
  2. 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 978-1317278597. 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
  3. "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. Archived from the original on 2018-09-25. Retrieved 2017-10-16.
  4. "Constitutionalism: America & Beyond". Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP), U.S. Department of State. Archived from the original on 24 October 2014. Retrieved 30 October 2014. The earliest, and perhaps greatest, victory for liberalism was achieved in England. The rising commercial class that had supported the Tudor monarchy in the 16th century led the revolutionary battle in the 17th and succeeded in establishing the supremacy of Parliament and, eventually, of the House of Commons. What emerged as the distinctive feature of modern constitutionalism was not the insistence on the idea that the king is subject to law (although this concept is an essential attribute of all constitutionalism). This notion was already well established in the Middle Ages. What was distinctive was the establishment of effective means of political control whereby the rule of law might be enforced. Modern constitutionalism was born with the political requirement that representative government depended upon the consent of citizen subjects... However, as can be seen through provisions in the 1689 Bill of Rights, the English Revolution was fought not just to protect the rights of property (in the narrow sense) but to establish those liberties which liberals believed essential to human dignity and moral worth. The "rights of man" enumerated in the English Bill of Rights gradually were proclaimed beyond the boundaries of England, notably in the American Declaration of Independence of 1776 and in the French Declaration of the Rights of Man in 1789.
  5. Maier, Pauline (1997). American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence. New York: Knopf. pp. 126–28. ISBN 0-679-45492-6.
  6. Schwartz, Bernard (1992). The Great Rights of Mankind: A History of the American Bill of Rights. Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 1–2. ISBN 9780945612285.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. Liberty, Equality, Fraternity: Exploring the French Revolution. Penn State Press. 2001. ISBN 0271040130.
  10. 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.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  11. Abbott, Lewis F. (2019). Defending Liberty: The Case for a New Bill of Rights. Industrial Systems Research. Retrieved December 4, 2021.
  12. Suter, Keith (18 July 2008). "Does Australia need a Bill of Rights?". Wesley Mission. Archived from the original on 2013-11-10.
  13. Anderson, Deb (21 September 2010). "Does Australia need a bill of rights?". The Age. Melbourne.
  14. "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2014-02-13. Retrieved 2014-10-26.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  15. "Howard opposes Bill of Rights". PerthNow. The Sunday Times. 2009-08-27. Retrieved 2009-09-14.
  16. Howard, John (2009-08-27). "2009 Menzies Lecture by John Howard (full text)". The Australian. News Limited. Archived from the original on 2009-08-30. Retrieved 2009-09-14.
  17. Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2008 (Vic).
  18. Human Rights Act 2004 (ACT).
  19. "Human Rights Act 2019". Queensland Government. 7 March 2019. Retrieved 4 April 2019.
  20. Potter v Minahan [1908] HCA 63, (1908) 7 CLR 277, High Court (Australia).
  21. "Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania - 1776". Duquesne University. Archived from the original on October 21, 2016. Retrieved December 29, 2016.
  22. "The Donors Bill of Rights". Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP). 2022-12-21. Retrieved 2022-12-22.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
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