is a person
who pleads with a governmental institution for a legal remedy
or a redress of grievances.
In the courts
The petitioner may seek a legal remedy if the state
or another private person
has acted unlawfully. In this case, the petitioner, often called a plaintiff
, will submit a plea to a court
to resolve the dispute.
To the government
On the other hand, the petitioner may be complaining against the law
itself, rather than against a breach of the law or a failure of the machinery of government to appropriately enforce it. In this case, the petitioner is said to seek "redress of grievances"; this is a political act instead of a legal one, and usually involves approaching the legislature
The freedom to petition the government for redress of grievances is guaranteed by law in some countries. The English Bill of Rights specifically declared, among other things, "That it is the right of subjects to petition the king, and all commitments and prosecutions for such petitioning are illegal". Its American counterpart likewise commands Congress to "... make no law... abridging... the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for redress of grievances".
A petitioner need not seek a change to an existing law. Often, petitioners speak against (or in support of) legislative proposals as these progress.
The Whig party
A group of 17th century English politicians became known as Petitioners
, due to their support of the Exclusion Bill
, a bill which would prevent the succession to the throne of the Catholic James, Duke of York
, the heir apparent of King Charles II
. After the House of Commons
passed the Bill, Charles dissolved Parliament; when a new Parliament was elected shortly afterwards, Charles simply refused to summon it to meet. The Petitioners got their name from the many petitions they sent to Charles urging him to summon Parliament; they were opposed by the Abhorrers
, who resisted the Exclusion Bill and were in no hurry to see a pro-Exclusion Bill Parliament meet. In the heat of the dispute, the two factions traded insulting epithets; with the result that the Petitioners became known as the Whigs
and their opponents as Tories