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 An entrenched bill of rights cannot be amended or repealed by a country's legislature through regular procedure, instead requiring a supermajority or referendum; often it is part of a country's constitution, and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 A bill of rights that is not entrenched is a normal statute law and as such can be modified or repealed by the legislature at will.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 and earlier. An example is Magna Carta, an English legal charter agreed between the King and his barons in 1215. In the early modern period, there was renewed interest in Magna Carta.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 established certain rights in statute.
Inspired by the Age of Enlightenment, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen asserted the universality of rights. 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.
The constitution of the United Kingdom remains uncodified. 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.
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. In 1973, Federal Attorney-General Lionel Murphy introduced a human rights Bill into parliament, although it was never passed. 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. 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.Victoria, Queensland and the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) are the only states and territories to have a human rights Act. 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.
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