BILL. There are three words in English with distinct meanings and derivations. (1) A written, originally sealed, document. The word is derived from the Early English bille, Anglo-Latin billa, from Latin bulla, in the medieval sense of “seal.” It is a doublet, therefore, of “bull.” (2) A common Teutonic word for a long-handled cutting weapon (O. Eng. bil, billes, sword or falchion, O. Sax. bill, M.H.G. Bil, Mod. Ger. Bille, a pickaxe; no connexion with Ger. Beil, an axe), of which the name and shape is preserved in the hedging-bills used for pruning hedges and lopping the branches of trees. For an account of the weapon see (2) below. (3) The beak of a bird. This may be connected with (2), but it does not appear in any Teutonic language other than English.
(1) In the sense of a document the word is used in various connexions in law and commerce.
In the English parliament, and similar legislative bodies, a bill is a form of statute (q.v.) submitted to either house, which when finally passed becomes an act. The modern system of legislating by means of bill and statute appears to have been introduced in the reign of Henry VI., superseding the older mode of proceeding by petitions from the Commons, assented to by the king, and afterwards enrolled by the judges. A bill consists of a preamble, reciting the necessity for legislation, and clauses which contain the enactments. (For procedure see Parliament.)
A Bill in Chancery, in former days, in English law, was a written statement of the plaintiff’s case whereby he complained of the wrong upon which the suit was based and prayed for relief. By the Judicature Acts 1873 and 1875 its place was taken by a writ and statement of claim (see Pleading).
A Bill of Indictment is a presentment against a prisoner, charging him with an offence, and presented at quarter sessions or assizes to the grand jury (see Indictment).
A Bill of Costs is an account setting forth the charges and disbursements incurred by a solicitor in the conduct of his client’s business. The delivery of a bill of costs is by statute a condition necessary before the solicitor can sue upon it (see Costs).
A Bill of Exceptions was formerly a statement in writing of objections to the ruling of a judge, who, at the trial, had mistaken the law, either in directing the jury, or in refusing or admitting evidence or otherwise. The bill of exceptions was tendered at any time before the verdict by counsel of the dissatisfied party, who required the judge to seal it. The case proceeded to the jury, and judgment being given, the point raised was brought before a court of error. Bills of exceptions were confined to civil cases. They were abolished by the Judicature Act 1875, and a “motion for a new trial” substituted (see Trial).
A Bill of Health is a document given to the master of a ship by the consul or other proper authority of the port from which he clears, describing the sanitary state of the place. A bill of health may be either “clean,” “suspected” or “touched,” or “foul.” A “clean” bill imports that at the time the ship sailed, no disease of an infectious or contagious kind is known to exist, a “suspected” or “touched” bill, that no such disease has as yet appeared, but that there is reason to fear it; a “foul” bill, that such a disease actually exists at the time of the ship’s departure. Bills of health are necessary where the destination of the ship is a country whose laws require the production of such a bill before the ship is allowed into port, and where, in default of such production, the ship is subjected to quarantine.
A Bill of Mortality in England was a weekly return issued under the supervision of the company of parish clerks showing the number of deaths in a parish. During the Tudor period England suffered much from plague, and various precautionary measures became necessary. Quarantine or isolation was the most important, but to carry it out successfully it was necessary to have early warning of the existence of plague in each parish or house. For this purpose searchers—usually women—were appointed, who reported to the clerk the cause of each death in the parish. He, in turn, sent a report to the parish clerks’ hall, from whence was issued weekly a return of all the deaths from plague and other causes in the various parishes, as well as a list of those parishes which were free from plague. Bills of mortality are usually said to date from 1538, when parish registers were established by Cromwell (Lord Essex), but there is extant a bill which dates from August 1535, and one which is possibly even earlier than this. It is certain that they first began to be compiled in a recognized manner in December 1603, and they were continued regularly from that date down to 1842, when under the Births and Deaths Registration Act 1836 they were superseded by the registrar-general’s returns. It was not till 1728, when the ages of the dead were first introduced, that bills of mortality acquired any considerable statistical value. It was on the data thus furnished that the science of life insurance was founded.
A Bill of Particulars was, in law, a statement in writing, informing each party to a suit the precise nature of the case they had to meet. It contained the plaintiff’s cause of action or the defendant’s set-off. Particulars are now usually indorsed on the pleadings (see Pleading).
A Bill of Peace is, in equity, a suit brought by a person to establish and perpetuate a right which he claims, and which from its nature may be controverted by different persons at different times and by different actions; or where several attempts have already been unsuccessfully made to overthrow the same right, and justice requires that the party should be quieted in the right if it is already sufficiently established. Bills of this nature were usually filed where there was one general right to be established against a great number of persons, or where one person claimed or defended a right against many, or where many claimed or defended a right against one. Thus, a bill might be filed by a parson for tithes against his parishioners; by parishioners against a parson to establish a modus; by a lord against tenants for an encroachment under colour of a common right; or by tenants against a lord for disturbance of a common right. Bills were also filed in cases where the plaintiff had, after repeated and satisfactory trials, established his right at law, and yet was in danger of further litigation and obstruction to his right from new attempts to controvert it. Actions in the nature of bills of peace are still maintainable.
A Bill of Sight is a document furnished to a collector of customs or other proper officer by an importer of goods in England, who, being unable for want of full information to make a perfect entry of goods consigned to him, describes the same to the best of his knowledge and information. The goods may then be provisionally landed, but perfect entry must be made within three days by indorsing on the bill of sight the necessary particulars. In default of perfect entry within three days the goods are taken to the king’s warehouse, and if perfect entry is not made within one month and all duties and charges paid, they are sold for payment thereof. See the Customs Consolidation Act 1876.
A Bill of Store is a license granted by the custom-house to re-import British goods into the United Kingdom. All British goods re-imported into the United Kingdom are entered as foreign, unless re-imported within ten years after their exportation and unless the property in the goods continues and remains in the person by whom they were exported. But in such case they may be entered as British goods, by bill of store, with the exception of corn, grain, meal, flour and hops.
A Bill of Victualling or Victualling Bill, in its original meaning, is a list of all stores for shipment, but now an order from an export officer of the customs for the shipment from a bonded warehouse or for drawback of such stores as may be required and allowed with reference to the number of the crew and passengers on board a ship proceeding on an oversea voyage. It is made out by the master and countersigned by the collector of customs. Its object is to prevent frauds on the revenue. No such stores are supplied for the use of any ship nor any articles taken on board deemed to be stores unless they are borne upon the victualling bill, and any such stores relanded at any place in the United Kingdom without the sanction of the proper officers of the customs will be forfeited and the master and owner will each be liable to a penalty of treble the value of the stores or £100. A victualling bill serves as a certificate of clearance when there is nothing but stores on board the ship.
(2) In the sense of a weapon, the primitive forms of a bill suggest short scythe-blades or hedgers’ bill-hooks mounted on tall staves. In such shape it is found in the hands of the English before the Conquest. English medieval documents make much confusion between the bill and the halbert and other forms of staved weapons with cutting heads. Before the 15th century the bill had been reinforced with a pike head above the curved blade and another jutting at a right angle from the blade’s back. In this form it became a popular English weapon, the “brown bill” of many ballads. Billmen are not found in the king’s host at Crécy and Calais, the bowmen carrying malls or short swords, and Henry VII.’s contracts for troops do not name the bill, which may be regarded rather as the private man’s weapon. But when, in the middle of the 15th century, Walter Strickland, a Westmorland squire, contracts to raise armed men, it is noticeable that more than half his horsemen carry the bill as their chief arm, while seventy-one bowmen are to march on foot with seventy-six billmen. In the 16th century the bill, with the halbert, fell out of use among regular troops, the pike taking their place on account of the longer staff, which made it a better defence against cavalry. It remained during the 17th century as a watchman or constable’s weapon, although rudely-fashioned bills were seen in Sedgemoor fight. (O. Ba.)