Historical Documents and Declarations


The Magna Carta of 1215 and 1225

Magna Carta 1215

  • King John in 1215, was forced to sign Magna Carta.
  • In Chapter 52 of this Magna Carta, King John agreed to restore the rights.
  • Chapter 55 provided that all “fines made with us unjustly and against the law of the land imposed unjustly and against the law of the land, shall be entirely remitted.”
  • Chapter 39 Concept of due process of law: “No freeman shall be taken or [and] imprisoned or diseased or exiled or in any way destroyed … except by the lawful judgment of his peers or [and] by the law of the land.”
  • Accordingly, the king agreed that in the future he would not deprive freemen of their lives, liberties, or properties unless it was required by a legitimate law, and then, only pursuant to fair and proper procedures.
  • He thereby ordered authority not to apply retroactive or other oppressive laws destroying or damaging freemen as had previously been his practice.

Magna Carta 1225

  • King John died in October 1216. After the death of King John, his nine years old son Henry III succeeded.
  • Chapter 29 of the 1225 charter broadened and replaced Chapter 39 of King John’s charter and provided as follows:
  • No freeman shall be taken, or imprisoned, or be diseased of his freehold, or liberties, or free customs, or be outlawed, or exiled, or any otherwise destroyed; nor will we not pass upon him, nor condemn him, but by lawful judgment of his peers, or by the law of the land. We will sell to no man, we will not deny or defer to any man either justice or right.”
  • By its terms, Chapter 29 of the 1225 Charter was a greater limitation on royal powers than Chapter 39 of John’s Charter, but its meaning, and that of subsequent confirmatory statutes, had to await interpretation by the common-law judges. The English people regarded Henry’s Magna Carta – and subsequent statutes broadening its guarantees – as preserving and protecting their lives, liberties, and properties. Those who migrated to America, and their descendants who lived there, asserted these “rights of Englishmen” against restraints imposed by the English authorities.
  • In sum,
    • The Magna Carta has been considered as a Great Charter contributing in the development of concept of rule of law
    • The concept of fair trial can be seen landmark in the Charter.
    • Similarly it recognized the concept of rule of law intending a legal system that would no longer be based on an individual ruler’s system of laws, but a system of laws that even a ruler would have to abide by.
    • Until Magna Carta, English Kings ruled with absolute power and the people had only little freedom the kings chose to give them.

 Petition of Rights 1628:

  • It is called a second greatest constitutional charter of the liberties of England.
  • Clauses 1, XI were related to the rights and freedoms of the citizens. These rights and freedoms include trial by court/jury.
  • No tax without permission of the represent
  • atives of people.
  • Principle of due process.
  • Unnecessary search and seizure were restricted.

English Bill of Rights 1689



  • Another important document from the early history of human rights is English Bill of Rights from 1688, an act declaring rights and liberties of citizens. It was a tremendous step towards the development of a true limited government. Among other things, the English Bill of Rights prohibited the king from forming armies without authorization from parliament, (By raising and keeping a standing army within this kingdom in time of peace without consent of parliament, and quartering soldiers contrary to law.)
  • Prohibited summarily increasing taxes and using unreasonable fines or cruel and unusual punishment
  • It also provided the “suspending laws without the consent of parliament is illegal, “
  • “election of members of parliament ought to be free”, and
  • “Freedom of speech ought not to be impeached or questioned.”

Habeas Corpus Act , 1679

  • Amendments in 1888, 1967, 1971, and 1976
  • Habeas corpus Act was intended to protect personal liberty and security of person.
  • Earlier there were severe prerogatives of the king and king could make an order punishing the individuals without any case.
  • The writ of habeas corpus was first time England and perhaps even the world was introduced to protect personal liberty.
  • There was a provision that the writ of habeas corpus was to be issued even in the vacations by the judge.

Historical Declarations:
The French and American Declarations:

  • In the eighteenth century, two historical events and two documents made a remarkable contribution to the constitutional development of the concept of human rights.
  1. i) American Declaration of Independence, 1776
  • In 1776, most of the British colonies in North America proclaimed their independence from the British Empire.
  1. II) French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, August 26, 1789
  • In the 1789, the people of overthrew their monarchy and established the first French Republic. Later that year the National Assembly of France adopted Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.

i) American Declaration of Independence, 1776

  • The American Declaration of Independence begins by proclaiming the people’s dissolution of the existing political bands, “to assume among the powers of the earth the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them.”
  • According to the Declaration of Independence, it is a “self-evident” truth that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,” which include “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
  • These rights are prior to government and legitimate government is a convention based upon consent: “to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
  • The people retain the right to dissolve a government: “That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it.”

II) The French Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen of 1789

  • ignorance, forgetfulness or contempt of the rights of man, are the sole causes of the public miseries and of the corruption of governments,” and then sets forth the “natural, inalienable, and sacred rights of man.

Basic Features of The Declaration of the Rights of Man:

    1. Men are born and remain free and equal in rights.
  1. 2. The aim of every political association is the preservation of the natural and imprescriptible rights of man.

These rights are liberty, property, security, and resistance to oppression. .

Art. 4. Liberty consists in the power to do anything that does not injure others; accordingly, the exercise of the natural rights of each man has no limits except those that secure to the other members of society the enjoyment of these same rights. These limits can be determined only by law. . . .

Art. 6. Law is the expression of the general will. It must be the same for all, whether it protects or punishes. all citizens are equal in its eyes..

Art. 11. The free communication of ideas and opinions is one of the most precious of the rights of man; every citizen then can speak, write, and print, subject to responsibility for the abuse of this freedom in the cases determined by law. . . .

Art. 17. Property being a sacred and inviolable right, no one can be deprived of it, unless a legally established public necessity evidently demands it, under the condition of a just and prior indemnity.

  • Both Declarations invoked the concept of rights, in roughly the same sense as this notion was formulated by the social contract theorists:

First, rights inhere in individuals and precede the formation of the state.

Second, the original rights held by individuals pertain to their self-interest–their sustenance, their self-preservation, their freedom to pursue their own ends and desires. This freedom is a negative freedom, that is, freedom from prohibitions.

Finally, these rights speak to the relation between the individual and the state.