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The doctrine of rule of law has its origin in England and it is one of the fundamental characteristics of the British constitutional system. It lays down that the law is supreme and hence the government must act according to law and within the limits of the law. It is the legal principle that law should govern a nation, as opposed to being governed by arbitrary decisions of individual government officials. It primarily refers to the influence and authority of law within society, particularly as a constraint upon behavior, including behavior of government officials.

A V Dicey in his book The Law of the Constitution (1885) has given the following three implications of the doctrine of rule of law.

  1. Absence of arbitrary power, that is, no man is punished except for a breach of law
  2. Equality before the law,that is, equal subjection of all citizens (rich or poor, high or low, official or non official) to the ordinary law of the land administered by the ordinary law courts
  3. The primacy of the rights of individual, that is, the constitution is the result of the rights of the individual as defined and enforced by courts of law, rather than constitution being the source of the individual rights

Most legal theorists believe that the rule of law, popularized in 19th century, has purely formal characteristics, and possess the characteristics of generality, equality, and certainty, but there are no requirements with regard to the content of the law and protection of individual rights.

Today Dicey's theory of rule of law cannot be accepted in its totality. The modern concept of the rule of law is fairly wide and therefore sets up an ideal for any government to achieve. Accordingly - "The rule of law implies that the functions of the government in a free society should be so exercised as to create conditions in which the dignity of man as an individual is upheld. This dignity requires not only the recognition of certain civil or political rights but also creation of certain political, social, economical, educational and cultural conditions which are essential to the full development of his personality".

The relevance of the Rule of Law is demonstrated by application of the following principles in practice:

  • The separation of powers between the legislature, the executive and the judiciary.
  • The law is made by representatives of the people in an open and transparent way.
  • The law and its administration is subject to open and free criticism by the people, who may assemble without fear.
  • The law is applied equally and fairly, so that no one is above the law.
  • The law is capable of being known to everyone, so that everyone can comply.
  • No one is subject to any action by any government agency other than in accordance with the law and the model litigant rules, no one is subject to any torture.
  • The judicial system is independent, impartial, open and transparent and provides a fair and prompt trial.
  • All people are presumed to be innocent until proven otherwise and are entitled to remain silent and are not required to incriminate themselves.
  • No one can be prosecuted, civilly or criminally, for any offence not known to the law when committed.
  • No one is subject adversely to a retrospective change of the law.

Rule of Law and Indian Constitution 

In India the Constitution is supreme. The preamble of our Constitution clearly sets out the principle of rule of law. It is sometimes said that planning and welfare schemes essentially strike at rule of law because they affect the individual freedoms and liberty in many ways. But rule of law plays an effective role by emphasizing upon fair play and greater accountability of the administration. It lays greater emphasis upon the principles of natural justice and the rule of speaking order in administrative process in order to eliminate administrative arbitrariness.

Important Components of Rule-of-Law Reforms

a) Court Reforms 

  • The efficiency of the courts is an important component in rule-of-law reforms as the existence of a judiciary is a fundamental aspect of the rule of law. 
  • To increase accountability and transparency, information technology systems may be installed to provide greater public access. To increase independence of the courts, the government can provide them with funding that will allow them to make their own financial and administrative decisions.
  • Recent aggressive judicial activism can also be seen as a part of the efforts of the Constitutional Courts in India to establish rule-of-law society, which implies that no matter how high a person, may be the law is always above him. Court is also trying to identify the concept of rule of law with human rights of the people. The Court is developing techniques by which it can force the government not only to submit to the law but also to create conditions where people can develop capacities to exercise their rights properly and meaningfully. However, separation of powers should be maintained.

b) Legal Rules 

  • Another important rule-of-law reform goal is to build the legal rules. As Fuller stated, “laws must exist.”

c) Institutional Encouragement on the Global Level 

  • To encourage additional country-specific development, in the early 1990s the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) began conditioning financial assistance on the implementation of the rule of law in recipient countries. These organizations had provided aid to support initiatives in legislative drafting, legal information, public and legal education, and judicial reforms, including alternative dispute resolution. By conditioning funds on the establishment of the rule of law, the World Bank and the IMF also hope to reduce corruption, which undermines economic development by scaring away investors and preventing the free flow of goods and capital. Currently, in its Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), the United Nations (UN) also champions the rule of law as a vehicle to bring about more sustainable environmental practices.


Rule of law is mostly believed to be a modern concept which is a gift of democracy however it is something which is fundamental to the very basic idea of good governance

We need to focus on the weaknesses and loopholes so that we can remove or plug them. Having said this, we cannot resist ourselves from adding that it is not that only the three organs of the State are to be blamed for the dismal state of rule of law in the society. Other actors like the media, civil society and even the ordinary citizen cannot run away from their respective responsibilities. Therefore it is equally important that all the actors of the society ensure for the maintenance of Rule of Law.