All About the Rule of Law

‘Rule of Law’ is a concept of Constitutional jurisprudence and one of the most important principles in modern legal systems. The concept was introduced by Albert Venn Dicey in his book ‘Introduction to the Study of the Law of the Constitution’ (1885). A.V. Dicey was a Constitutional expert, he wrote about the twin pillars of British Constitution- parliament sovereignty and the rule of law.

‘Rule of Law’ is a widely accepted concept in almost all the countries of the world, and no absolute meaning can be regarded to this universal term this . But , fundamental doctrine essentially means that ‘Law is most supreme and no one is higher than the authority of law’. In simpler terms it means that everyone should follow the law.

History of the Rule of Law

The principle has its origin in the times of Aristotle, who wrote: “It is more proper that law should govern than any one of the citizens”. Other thinkers like Cicero, Plato, also regarded importance to the authority of law.

The significant development of the doctrine happened in 16th century England, where scholars started criticizing and questioning the Divine Theory of State. In 1607, Sir Edward Coke used the phrase rule of law to denounce the claims of James I to the Divine authority. He said that even the King should fall under the protection of law. Later, John Locke discussed it in his book ‘Second Treatise of Government’(1690). The notion was also popular in the United States of America during its founding after gaining Independence. It was incorporated in its Constitution, that no one is above the law. It was made popular and propounded by A.V.Dicey in the 19th century.

In the modern world, most constitutions like the American Constitution, the Indian Constitution, the British Constitution, etc. are based on this doctrine.

Read Also: Rule of Law under the Indian Constitution

A. V. Dicey’s Interpretation of Rule of Law:

In his book, Introduction to the Study of the Law of the Constitution, Dicey talks about the two pillars of the unwritten and uncodified British Constitution. According to him, Rule of Law is one of the most important doctrines in Constitutionalism as it rooted in the principle of quality and provides safeguards against government arbitration. No man can be made to suffer or punished unless there is a breach of law by the individual.

According to Dicey, there are 3 principles which define Rule of Law:

(i) The supremacy of Law-

It is a very important principle of the British Common law. As can be easily understood, Dicey regarded ‘law’ as the ultimate authority. A man is governed by law alone and nothing else. This also signified that no arbitrary or discretionary power supersedes the authority of law.

(ii) Equality before Law-

This signifies that in terms of equality before the law, no man is above the law. No particular individual would be treated differently or especially before the law and everyone would be subjected to the same law.

(This principle can be found in Article 14 of the Constitution which protects individual rights against discriminatory treatment before law and provides ‘Right to Equality’).

(iii) Principles of the constitution are the result of the ordinary law-

This principle is special to England, as it does not have a written constitution. Thus, the principle of the Constitution give predominance to the legal spirit. England has a court-based Constitution and the courts should be respected. The courts would secure the rights of the citizens and also enforce them.

(This principle has been partially adopted in Article 32 and 226 of the Indian Constitution which give the courts of the country to enforce and safeguard the fundamental rights of the citizens) .

Importance of Rule of Law

The principle of ‘Rule of Law’ is widely accepted. It promotes equality among citizens and protects the Constitution from any unlawful interference. It also protects the rights of citizens and provides safeguards against the tyrannical and anarchical rule. It also gives importance to the judiciary and recognizes its role in the protection of law.

Many developments have taken place since Dicey introduced his understanding of Rule of law, the Indian Constitution through its various provisions has adopted this doctrine. It is an essential element of jurisprudence and upholds democratic values. In Conclusion, Rule of Law means that no other authority can supersede the authority of law and law protects the rights and liberties of every individual.

Dewangi Sharma

ILS Law College, Pune

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