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The Concept of Rule of Law

The concept of rule of law was propounded by Edward Coke and latter it was developed by AV Dicey a British Jurist. It was discussed by ancient Greek philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle.

According to Plato, "Where the law is subject to some other authority and has none of its own, the collapse of the state, in my view, is not far off; but if law is the master of the government and the government is its slave, then the situation is full of promise and men enjoy all the blessings that the gods shower on a state". According to Aristotle, the concept of rule of law is that "law should be the final sovereign".

In simple words, rule of law means equality before laws, independence of judiciary, freedom and no arbitrariness etc. The term rule of law is derived from the French term 'la principle de legalite' means the principle of legality which refers to government is based on principles of law and not of men.

According to Prof Wade, "The rule of law requires that the government should be subject to the law rather than the law should subject to the government".

Dicey's concept of rule of law

Albert Venn Dicey a British Jurist popularly known for the concept of rule of law. He opposed the Administrative law as it creates arbitrariness whereas rule of law focus on equality principle. He developed this concept of rule of law in his book, "The law of the Constitution" in 1885. He identified three postulates of the rule of law i.e. supremacy of law, equality before law and third one is predominance of principles.

Let's see these postulates in his sense:
  1. Supermacy of law:
    Supermacy of law means law is supreme. No one is above the law. Everyone should be treated equally whether it is a King or a common man. If a person commits crime he shall be punished for his wrong. Similarly if a king commits a crime he shall be punished. Even a President of Prime Minister shall be liable.
  2. Equality before law:
    In general terms, equality before law means everyone should be treated equally. There should be no arbitrariness.There should be no discrimination on the ground of equality means where society needs a positive discrimitation it would be acceptable. So that lower class could also enjoy equal rights and become the part of the society equally.
  3. Predominance of principles:
    In many countries, there is its own constitution which defines rules and regulation to how to act in the society. Constitution governs the people and state. But merely constitution is not sufficient to determine the rights of the individual. Rights of individual are enforced by the judicial decisions. These are determined by the decisions of the courts in a wider sense.
Above three are postulates of Dicey's concept of rule of law.

Approach of Rule of law

There are two approaches or senses for the concept of rule of law. First one is Formalistic sense and second one is Ideological sense. Formalistic sense is governed by organized group whereas Ideological sense is governed by the relationship between citizen and the state.

In ideological sense, it talks about public development and for this purpose we need three postulates and these postulates are equality, freedom and accountability. Equality which refers to social, economic and political development. It talks about positive equality. There should not be any discrimination among classes. Freedom refers to individual liberty, freedom of speech and expression, and absence of arbitrariness. Third postulate is accountability which refers state to be governed with deference of people and accountable to them. These three postulates are important for the public development.[i]

Position in India
This concept of rule of law was adopted by U.K and U.S.A. India has also adopted some provisions from U.K and some provisions from U.S.A. The concept of rule of law is mentioned in our constitution in the preamble and enshrined in the part III of our Indian Constitution. In violation of person's rights one can directly approach to Supreme court and High court under Article 32 and 226 of our Constitution.

There are some cases related to rule of law concept:

  1. Keshavananda Bharti vs. Union of India:

    In this case it was held that parliament could not amend basic structure of our constitution. [ii]
  2. Indira Gandhi vs. Raj Narain:

    In this case, the concept of rule of law was included in the basic structure of constitution that means it could not be amended. [iii]
  3. Maneka Gandhi vs. Union of India:
    Supreme court observed that article 14 strikes at arbitrariness in state actions and ensures fairness and equality in treatment. Rule of law which is the basic structure of the Indian constitution excludes arbitrariness. [iv]
  4. ADM Jabalpur vs. Shivakant Shukla:

    A person challenged the detention orders during emergency as it suspended article 14 and 21. So it violates principles of rule of law and rule of law is the basic structure of our constitution.[v]
  5. DC Wadhwa vs. State of Bihar:

    The Supreme court used rule of law to decry state government which was too frequently using its ordinance making power as a substitute of legislation by the Legislature.[vi]
  6. Som Raj vs. State of Haryana:

    SC observed that first postulate of rule of law is the absence of arbitrariness upon which whole constitutional edifice is based.[vii]
  7. Sheela Barse vs. State of Maharashtra:

    The court insisted on fairness to women in police lock up and also drafted code of guidelines for the protection of prisoners especially women prisoners.[viii]
  8. Yusuf Khan vs. Manohar Joshi:

    The Supreme Court laid down that it is the duty of the state to preserve and protect the laws and constitution and that it may not permit any violent act which may negate rule of law.[ix]
  9. State of Madhya Pradesh vs. Ramashankar Raghuvanshi:

    The court secured fairness to public employment and by holding that reliance on police reports are misplaced in democratic republic.[x]

Modern Concept of Rule of law

The modern concept of rule of law is developed by International Commission known as Delhi Declaration 1959, latter it was held at Lagos in 1961. This declaration talks about the human dignity for the development of rule of law. For the purpose for recognition of human dignity, there should not only need for recognition of their political, social, economic rights but also need of creation of certain rights such as political, social, economic and educational rights etc for the development of rule of law [xi]. The modern concept of rule of law is to make government so effective that it can protect individual liberty.

In the case of Veena Sethi vs. State of Bihar[xii] it was observed that rule of law must be reached to downtrodden and to the poor.

Basic Principles of Rule of law

There are some basic principles for the concept of rule of law which are detailed below:
  1. Law is supreme
  2. There is absence of arbitrariness
  3. It talks about equality before law and equal protection of law.
  4. Independent and impartial judiciary
  5. Speedy trial
  6. Fair and just procedure
  7. Discretionary power of the government must be limited so that they could not misuse their power.

In the end we can conclude that the concept of rule of law is to protect the rights of individual. No one should be discriminated. Everyone should be treated equally. There should be no discrimination and no arbitrariness. Everyone is equal in the eyes of law, no one is above the law whether it is a king or a common man. Each person would be liable for their wrong.

As rule of law is basic structure of our Indian Constitution so it could not be amended by the Parliament means no one could violate person's rights if it is so he can directly go to Supreme Court or High Court for the enforcement of their rights under article 32 and 226 of our Constitution.


  1. I.P. Massey, Administrative Law( Eastern Book Company, Lucknow, Tenth edition/2022)
  2. AIR 1973
  3. AIR 1975
  4. AIR 1978
  5. AIR 1976
  6. AIR 1987
  7. AIR 1990
  8. AIR 1983
  9. AIR 2000
  10. AIR 1983
  11. Ibid.,2
  12. AIR 1982
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