January 26, 2023

Rule of Law

This article has been written by Vishwas Agarwal, a final-year law student at the West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences, Kolkata.


The Rule of Law is the principle that a state should be ruled not by its monarch or the people’s elected representatives but by the law itself. In a nation where the rule of law is upheld, the ultimate law of the land is the Grundnorm, or the fundamental law from which all other laws gain their power. Instead of being the law, the King is subject to it.Rule of law is not specified anywhere in the Indian Constitution. The Constitution was written with the rule of law as a central premise, and this cannot be disputed. The rule of law is an unalienable concept since the Supreme Court has deemed it one of the “basic elements” of the Constitution. According to the principle of the rule of law, citizens must be ruled by established norms rather than the caprices of their leaders. All people should be held to the same standard; hence the standards should be broad and abstract, well-established, and undeniable. Freedom under the rule of law is the bedrock of constitutional governments. Constitutionalism’s defining feature is the imposition of constitutional constraints on the government. Constitutionalism holds that rulers are not above the law, that authority is separated between legislative and executive branches, and that an impartial judiciary is necessary to guarantee law enforcement. Protecting individuals’ lives and freedoms without sacrificing the rights of some to bring benefits to others is only possible with an efficient and effective constitution.

This idea was first proposed by Sir Edward Coke, the Chief Justice during the reign of James I. He fought the King and won, establishing the supremacy of the law by insisting that the monarch should answer to God and the law rather than the other way around.

Dr. A.V. Dicey, a professor at the University of Cambridge, is credited with creating the Coke formula. In his landmark work “Law and the Constitution,” published in 1885, he outlined three tenets of the rule of law.

Prof. Dicey argues that the supremacy of the rule of law depends on the observance of three measures, or principles.

These three tenets are as follows:

  1. Supremacy of law

According to A. V. Dicey’s first principle, there should be no room for arbitrary or broad discretionary authority. That is to say, the law will govern our every move. In Dicey’s view, the law and the law alone determined the fate of Englishmen. Dicey warned that “where there is discretion, there is opportunity for arbitrariness,” and that “discretionary power on the part of the Government must entail insecurity for legal freedom on the part of its citizens” in a republic as much as in a monarchy. Equal protection under the law; andRule of law, according to Dicey, entails “equality before the law and equal submission of all classes to the usual law of the country administered by the ordinary law courts.”

  1. Equality before the Law

Everyone, including the government, regardless of status, is equally accountable to the law and the courts; this is the second premise. This part is being criticized heavily and is seen as being off-base. In truth, there are notable exceptions, like the Crown, the police, and Members of Parliament, for the sake of upholding peace and order in society. As a result of the Crown’s prerogative powers, individual liberties may be violated. The police force is above the law and has the ability to restrict individual freedoms. The libel laws do not apply to the members of parliament.

  1. Predominance of Legal Spirit

Third, a more lawful disposition has been seen.

According to the third definition of the rule of law, constitutional norms are codified via judicial rulings on the merits of individual lawsuits.

Numerous fundamental or human or basic rights, such as the right to personal liberty, freedom from arrest, etc., are guaranteed by the constitutions of many states (countries), as Dicey states. He claims that just having documentation proving such rights is insufficient. Only when such rights are adequately enforced in Courts of law can they be made accessible to the people. Such rights, for example, are the product of court judgement rather than a written constitution in England.

Modern conceptual understanding of Rule of Law

A pretty all-encompassing notion, the Rule of Law in its contemporary sense provides a goal for government to strive toward. The International Commission of Jurists first proposed this idea in their Delhi Declaration in 1959, and it was ratified in Lagos in 1961.

According to this theory, “a free society’s government should perform its duties in a way that ensures each person’s inherent worth is protected. As such, the modern concept of rule of law is to create those circumstances in which the dignity of man can be protected, and this includes not only recognition of certain civil or political, social, economic, educational, and cultural conditions which are essential to the full development of his personality. Rule of law is a notion developed in the modern era with the goal of strengthening government so that it can better safeguard people’s freedoms.”

With the goal of rule of law being the safeguarding of personal freedom, a variety of interpretations are possible. K.C. Davis defines “rule of law” in seven different ways.

  1. Law and order
  2. Methodologically Consistent

3. A legal or fair procedure

4. Adherence to natural justice principles

5. Power to make arbitrary decisions is removed in 5.

6. Judges and regular courts are favoured under rule No. 6

7. A court may review an administrative decision.

Rule of law as enshrined in the Indian Constitution

The rule of law has been crucial in the growth of democracy in India. The delegates drafting India’s constitution might have chosen between the United States and Britain. They took ideas from both the United States and England. Our founding fathers incorporated numerous English legal concepts, including the Rule of Law, into India’s constitution.

No individual in India has substantial authority beyond that which is granted by law. The government’s power is ultimately rooted in and derived from the Constitution, making it the highest law in the nation. Because of this, the rule of law is effectively enforced.

In India, everyone is equally subject to the law; the courts will not consider a person’s social or economic status.

The rule of law is strictly enforced in accordance with the Indian Constitution. The rule of law enshrined in Article 14 is the “fundamental structure” of the Indian constitution and, as such, cannot be destroyed even by an amendment of the constitution under Article 368, as ruled by the Supreme Court in the case Indira Nehru Gandhivs. Raj Narain.

In terms of the rule of law, the well-known habeas corpus case ADM Jabalpur v. Shivakant Shukla is crucial. “Whether there was any rule of law in India aside from Article 21” was the issue before the court. In light of the emergency declaration, execution of Articles 14, 21, and 22 was suspended. The majority of the bench said “no” to the legal issue. Even without Article 21 in the Constitution, the state has no right to deprive a person of life and liberty without the authority of law, as Justice H.R. Khanna pointed out in a dissenting judgement. The difference between a lawless society and one ruled by rules would lose all significance without the protection of human life and individual freedom.

One alternative definition of “rule of law” is that government operations should be carried out in accordance with a set of generally accepted norms and principles that place bounds on executive authority. In Som Raj v. State of Haryana, the Supreme Court said that the lack of arbitrary authority is the essential tenet of Rule of Law. Contrary to the idea, discretion that is exercised without any regulation.

The third definition of “rule of law”emphasizes the judicial system’s autonomy and its position as the last arbiter of disputes. The Supreme Court of India reaffirmed, very correctly, in Union of India v. Raghubir Singh that the decisions of the highest courts have far-reaching effects on people’s daily lives and on the way the state operates.


From what we have seen above, it is clear that the supremacy of law is the ultimate goal, and that the rule of law is the most effective means of getting there. The Court is also working to bridge the gap between Rule of Law and individual Human Rights. The court is working on a new method that will allow it to make the government do more than only obey the law; it will also help individuals learn the skills they need to exercise their rights in a fully functional and effective manner. Effective execution of Rule of Law on constitutional directives that actualize equally the objective criteria given down in law is the obligation of the public administration.

Every public official has a fiduciary responsibility to the people they serve and must put national interests first in their work.

Although the principle of the Rule of Law has no drawbacks, a rigorous adherence to the letter of the law (legitimately respected) may lead to legalism, which is harmful to a country.

The Supreme Court’s decisions in a number of landmark cases solidified the Court’s position as the ultimate arbiter of law and gave rise to the unassailable Principle of Judicial Review.


  1. „Kelsen‟s Theory of Grundnorm‟, Mridushri Swarup


  1. “Common Sense‟, Thomas Paine <http://www.gutenberg.org/files/147/147-h/147-h.html
  2. Indira Nehru Gandhi v Raj Narain, AIR 1975 SC 2295; SP Gupta v Union of India, AIR 1982 SC 149.
  3. Takwani C.K, “Lectures on Administrative Law” Third Edition Reprinted, 2004, pp17, Eastern Book Company.
  4. The Law and the Constitution, 1915.
  5. Indira Nehru Gandhi vs. Raj Narain, (1975) 2 SCC 159. 
  6. ADM Jabalpur v. Shivakant Shukla, AIR 1976 SC 1207. 
  7. Som Raj v. State of Haryana, AIR 1990 SC 1176. 
  8. Union of India v. Raghubir Singh, AIR 1989 SC 1933. 
  9. State of Punjab v. G.S.Gill, (1997)6SCC129. 
  10. Supdt. Engineer, Public Health U.T. Chandigarh v. Kuldeep Singh, (1997)9 SCC 199. 
  11. Dr. J.J.R.Upadhaya, Administrative Law, Page no. 36.

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