Definition of bill of rights noun from the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary


bill of rights

BrE BrE//ˌbɪl əv ˈraɪts//
; NAmE NAmE//ˌbɪl əv ˈraɪts//
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a written statement of the basic rights of the citizens of a country It was argued that the civil and political status and rights of the citizen must be enshrined in a bill of rights. Culturethe Bill of RightsThe Bill of Rights is the name given to two different documents.In the US the Bill of Rights consists of the first ten amendments, or changes, to the US Constitution. All of the amendments were agreed in 1791, two years after the Constitution was signed. They give Americans rights which are now considered basic, but which were unusual at the time. The government cannot limit these rights.Some of the amendments apply to all Americans. The First Amendment promises freedom of religion and also free speech and freedom of the press, which means that ordinary people and journalists can speak or write what they want, without restriction by the government. The Second Amendment, which gives people the right to own guns, is now the subject of much debate. The Fourth Amendment says that people cannot be arrested and their houses may not be searched, unless the police have a good reason for doing so. The Ninth and Tenth Amendments say that people and states have other rights beside those mentioned in the Constitution, but that the US government has only the powers that are listed there.Other amendments give rights to people who are accused of a crime. The Fifth Amendment says that people do not have to give evidence against themselves. Somebody who wants to use this right says, ‘ I plead the Fifth ’ or ‘ I take the Fifth ’, and this is often thought to mean that they are afraid to answer questions in case they get into trouble. The Sixth Amendment promises that people who have been accused of a crime will get a trial quickly. In fact, US courts are so busy that people often have to wait a long time, but the government cannot make them wait longer than necessary. The Seventh Amendment gives people who are accused of a serious crime the right to have their case heard by a jury, so that 12 ordinary citizens, not just a judge, decide whether they are innocent or guilty. The Eighth Amendment says that people who are found guilty of a crime cannot be given ‘cruel and unusual punishments’. There has been a lot of discussion about exactly what this means. This amendment was once used as an argument against capital punishment but it was decided later that the death sentence was not a cruel and unusual punishment.In Britain the Bill of Rights is the informal name of the Act Declaring the Rights and Liberties of the Subject, which was passed by Parliament in 1689. This Act dealt with the relationship between the king or queen and Parliament, not with the rights of individuals. The earlier Declaration of Right had greatly reduced the power of the king or queen, and the new Act helped make Britain a constitutional monarchy, in which real power lies with Parliament, not with the monarch. The Act also prevented a Roman Catholic from becoming king or queen
See the Oxford Advanced American Dictionary entry: bill of rights

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