The Habeas Corpus Act of 1679

The Habeas Corpus Act of 1679

The Habeas Corpus Act of 1679
The Habeas Corpus Act of 1679 – King Charles II of England, shown in this c. 1683 portrait by John Reilly (1646–1691), presided over the passage of the Habeas Corpus Act.

The common-law writ of habeas corpus, sometimes known as the “Great Writ,” was first used in England in the Assize of Clarendon in the eleventh century to surrender a prisoner to court.

“Habeas corpus” literally translates to “you may have the body.” Originally, only the monarch could give a high prerogative writ, which was known as a high prerogative writ. Although first ineffectual, the writ eventually evolved into a tool that allowed a prisoner to contest the legality of his or her detention.

“Delays and evasions almost negated the effect of the writ,” historian Helen Nutting explains, because “courts had no means of forcing obedience to the first writ” and penalties “only accompanied the third… so that a jailer was perfectly within the limits of accepted procedure in not bringing the prisoner to court until he received the third writ.” The Habeas Corpus Act of 1679 was enacted in the hopes of resolving that tangled issue.

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