Habeas Corpus Act

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  • Intro

    Habeas Corpus is an Act of Parliament, still in force today, which ensures that no one can be imprisoned unlawfully. Literally translated, 'habeas corpus' means 'you may have the body' (if legal procedures are satisfied). This sounds like a strange phrase, but in medieval times it was the expression used to bring a prisoner into court. It later became used to fight against arbitrary detention by the authorities.

     

    In 1215 Magna Carta stated that no one could be imprisoned unlawfully, and the first recorded use of this provision was in 1305, but Habeas Corpus as we know it today was not made law until 1679. Although the law is still in effect, Habeas Corpus has not been continually used since 1679. It was suspended in 1793 when there were concerns that the French Revolution might inspire rebellion in England. It was also suspended several times in the 20th century. Internment (detention without charge) was employed in World War I and II, and during many periods of the conflict in Northern Ireland in the later 20th century. Today, detention without charge is back on the political agenda in the debates surrounding anti-terror legislation.

     

    Shelfmark: BS Ref 3/15.

  • Transcript

    Habeas Corpus Act

    Original text:

     

    An Act for the better Securing the Liberty of the Subject, and for Prevention of Imprisonments beyond the Seas.

     

    Whereas great Delays have been used by Sheriffs, Gaolers, and other Officers, to whose Custody, any of the King's Subjects have been Committed for Criminal, or supposed Criminal Matters, in making Returns of Writs of Habeas Corpus to them directed, by standing out an Alias and Pluries, Habeas Corpus, and sometimes more, and by other shifts, to avoid their yielding Obedience to such Writs, contrary to their Duty, and the known Laws of the Land, whereby many of the King's Subjects have been, and hereafter may be long detained in Prison, in such Cases where [by law they are bailable, to their great charges and vexation.

    II. For the prevention whereof, and the more speedy relief of all persons imprisoned for any such criminal or supposed criminal matters; be it enacted by the King's most excellent majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the lords spiritual and temporal, and commons, in this present parliament assembled, and by the authority thereof. That whensoever any person or persons shall bring any habeas corpus directed unto any sheriff or sheriffs, gaoler, minister or other person whatsoever, for any person in his or their custody, and the said writ shall be served upon the said officer, or left at the gaol or prison with any of the under-officers, under-keepers or deputy of the said officers or keepers, that the said officer or officers, his or their under-officers, under-keepers or deputies, shall within three days after the service thereof as aforesaid (unless the commitment aforesaid were for treason or felony, plainly and specially expressed in the warrant of commitment) upon payment or tender of the charges of bringing the said prisoner, to be ascertained by the judge or court that awarded the same, and endorsed upon the said writ, not exceeding twelve pence per mile, and upon security given by his own bond to pay the charges of carrying back the prisoner, if he shall be remanded by the court or judge to which he shall be brought according to the true intent of this present act, and that he will not make any escape by the way, make return of such writ; and bring or cause to be brought the body of the party so committed or restrained, unto or before the lord chancellor, or lord keeper of the great seal of England for the time being, or the judges or barons of the said court from which the said writ shall issue, or unto and before such other person or persons before whom the said writ is made returnable, according to the command thereof; and shall then likewise certify the true causes of his detainer or imprisonment, unless the commitment of the said party be in any place beyond the distance of twenty miles from the place or places where such court or person is or shall be residing; and if beyond the distance of twenty miles, and not above one hundred miles, then within the space of ten days, and if beyond the distance of one hundred miles, then within the space of twenty days, after such delivery aforesaid, and not longer.]

Find out more about the Habeas Corpus Act Here

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