Bill Of Attainder Definition and Legal Meaning

On this page, you'll find the legal definition and meaning of Bill Of Attainder, written in plain English, along with examples of how it is used.

What is Bill Of Attainder?

(n) Bill Of Attainder is a legislative Act which declares a person or group as guilty of any crime, there by ordering punishment to them, without allowing them a chance to represent their cause or an unbiased trial to determine whether they are guilty. Many constitutions prohibit enacting of such Acts. This was practiced by English monarchies during eighteenth century.

History and Meaning of Bill Of Attainder

Bill of Attainder is an old legal concept that traces its history back to medieval England. It was a legislative act that declared a person or a group guilty of a crime and levied punishment against them without giving them a fair trial or the opportunity to defend themselves. The practice was used by monarchies to suppress and punish dissent and opposition by labeling individuals as traitors, without any regards to their basic rights or representation.

The United States Constitution prohibits bills of attainder in Article 1, Section 9, which declares that "No Bill of Attainder or ex post facto Law will be passed." This means that the government cannot single out individuals or groups and declare them guilty of a crime without a fair trial.

Examples of Bill Of Attainder

  1. In 1651, during the English Civil War, the Long Parliament passed a Bill of Attainder against King Charles I, charging him with high treason and ordering his execution.

  2. In the 1950s, the U.S. Senate passed a bill of attainder against the Communist Party of America, declaring it a criminal organization and banning its members from holding public office.

  3. In 2010, the Hungarian Parliament passed a law that declared individuals who collaborated with the former Communist regime as unfit for public office or any other prestigious positions.

Legal Terms Similar to Bill Of Attainder

  1. Ex post facto laws: These are laws that criminalize actions that were legal when committed, or increase the punishment for those who commit such actions.

  2. Habeas corpus: This is a legal remedy that allows an individual to challenge their detention or imprisonment by the government.

  3. Due Process: It is the principle that the government must respect all of the legal rights that are owed to a person according to the law. This includes fair notice of proceedings, the right to be heard, a fair and impartial trial, and the right to appeal.