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A Comprehensive Guide to the Rule of Law in the Indian Constitution: Key Principles and Significance

Administrative law is a separate branch of law and a subject for academic study but since last few decades, it has gained full stature as a "responsible" field of study for the law students and practitioners. So, to recognize its independent existence, the people of England used the weapon of Dicey's Concept of Rule of Law to strike the growth of administrative law. "Rule of Law" is a new lingua franca of global moral thought and the supreme manifestation of human civilization and culture. Thus, rule of law adds eternal value to the constitution and an attribute for democracy and good governance. So, it can be well quoted by Lal Bahadur Shashtri that-

"The rule law ought to be respected with the goal that the basic structure of our democracy is maintained and further reinforced".

Meaning And Concept Of Rule Of Law

The concept of "rule of law" is a building block of our modern democratic society. This term is now here defined in the Indian Constitution but has been often used by the Indian judiciary in their judgements. Rule of law is neither a rule nor a law; rather it is a doctrine of state political morality which maintains a correct balance between the rights and power between the individuals and the state to make it a free and civil society. The correct balance is made by law which is based on freedom, justice, equality, and accountability.

The principle of rule of law is derived from the French phrase "la principle de legalite" which means a government based on the principles of law. Edward Coke is said to be the originator of the concept of the rule of law. He said that the king must be under God and Law. Coke had three major points regarding "rule of law". Firstly, rule of law is required to ensure that there is no authoritarian rule of the crown; secondly, it ensures that there is no arbitrary of the government; and lastly, it required for the protection of individuals and their rights.

Objects based on Edward coke's theory of "rule of law" are:
  1. To restrict government from authoritarian rule.
  2. To exclude arbitrary authority of government.
  3. Equal application of laws and orders irrespective of status/rank.
  4. To do things in legally right way.
  5. Protection of individuals and their rights.
  6. Law is supreme.
  7. Administrative actions can be questioned by law.

Rule of law means that the law rules, which is based on the principles of freedom, equality, non- discrimination and accountability.

The concept is very ancient and old and was discussed by the Greek philosopher Aristotle and Plato at the time of 350BC. Plato defined rule of law by stating that "it is supreme in nature, and nobody is above the law". According to Aristotle "law should be the final sovereign of the state". The German customary law proposed the principle that the king is always under the law, and it is the independent source of rule of law in the medieval period. According to john Locke, the government acts in accordance with the law.

Features Of Rule Of Law

  1. The principle of rule of law is upheld when the authorities while exercising their powers are not allowed to act according to their whims and fancies.
  2. Under the principle of rule of law, no person can be punished or made to suffer unless and until he has committed the breach of law.
  3. According to rule of law, everyone is equal before the law, i.e., law cannot be based on a class of persons.
  4. According to the principle of rule of law, a person can be punished only if he is charged of committing a crime and that charge is proved by an independent tribunal like that of a court.

Dicey's Concept On "Rule Of Law"

Albert Venn dicey (a British jurist and constitutional theorist) developed the concept of rule of law in his book "the law of the constitution" (1885). He states that one should know the difference between administrative law and the rule of law. According to him, rule of law is equal for everyone whether he is a prime minister or a normal bank clerk working in an office. Thus, same laws should be made applicable to everyone, no discrimination should be done under the rule of law and rule of law is supreme in nature.

A.V. Dicey propounded three postulates of rule of law, which are:
  1. Supremacy Of Law:
    The first postulate of Dicey states that rule of law refers to lack of arbitrariness or wide discretion of power. In other words, every man should be governed by law. Law is indisputably the incomparable and dominating instead of impact to influence of arbitrary power and discretionary power. A person can be punished of the rules of law and by nothing else.
  2. Equality Before The Law:
    The second postulate of rule of law states that there must be equality before the law and equal subjection of all classes to the ordinary law of land administered by ordinary law courts. Thus, it implies absence of special privileges for a government official or any other person. It states that there is no need for extraordinary tribunals or special courts to deal with the cases of government and its servants.
  3. Predominance Of Legal Spirit:
    The third postulate of rule of law states that the rights such as right to personal liberty, freedom from arbitrary arrest etc are the result of judicial decisions in England and the constitution of England is the result of ordinary law of the land and the individual rights are established by judicial decisions. The courts are the guarantors of the liberty.

Merits AND Demerits Of Dicey's Concept:


  • The theory developed by A.V. Dicey helped in making limits to the power of administrative authorities.
  • The theory acts as a scale for the test of administrative action.


  • Dicey's theory of rule of law was not completely accepted during that era also.
  • Dicey's dealt with the right of the individual only and ignored powers of administration.

Rule Of Law In Us Constitution

America adopted the concept of rule of law from medieval England, which was expressed as an "a government of laws' not of man"; the federal constitution of1787 changed the concept of constitutional government and introduced the "principle of constitution supremacy". According to article 6 of the American constitution, "constitution should be the supreme law of the land" it can be observed from the famous case of Marbury V. Madison1 that the American constitution and the power of judicial review are the extension of the rule of law.

In this case, the justice Marshall held that an act of congress country to the constitution was not regarded as a law. The major essential of the American constitution are federal separating of powers and rule of law. They are also referred as the heart of the American constitution as they contribute to achieve liberty, equality, order and justice.

There are mainly three types of American constitution and they are as given below:
  1. The American constitution requires its government to be politically responsible to both the state and the people who are governed by it.
  2. The American constitution believes that the legitimate expectation is the one which originates with people and controlled by the people and the same principle is described in the preamble which states that the constitution is established by the people and not by the government.
  3. Political supremacy and identification of all laws with the legislature are hostile to the American constitution as it declares it be the supreme law of law.

Rule Of Law In Indian Constitution

The principle of rule of law has played a major role in developing Indian democracy. At the time of forming of constitution, the farmers adopted some of the provisions from USA ad some of the provisions from USA and some of the provision from England. Our constitutional father adopted the concept of rule of law from England and many of its provisions are incorporated in the Indian constitution. In India, the constitution is considered to be supreme and no one is above it.

The preamble of Indian constitution clearly sets out the principles of rule of law in part third of the constitution. The Indian constitution is supreme than the wings of it, i.e. parliament, executive and judiciary, it is enriched with justice, equality and liberty. Article 14 of the constitution provides equality before law and equal protection of law. Fundamental rights are available to every citizen of India through article 13, 14,15,19,21,22,25,28 and 31A.

In case an individual faces violation of such rights then he can approach Supreme Court and high court under article 32 and 226 of the constitution of India. It is compulsory that any law made by the central government or state government should be compiled in accordance with the constitution of India but if found contravening with the provisions of the constitution then such law will be declared void.

According to article 32 of the constitution, the Supreme Court has the power to issue writs namely Habeas Corpus, Mandamus, Prohibition, Quo Warrantor and Certiorari. Thus, the power of judicial review also comes in the hands of Supreme Court in order to preserved rule of law and to prevent any ultra virus laws.

Basic Principles On Rule Of Law

  1. Law is supreme, above everything and everyone. Nobody is above law.
  2. All things should be done according to law and not according to whims and fancies.
  3. No person should be made to suffer except for a distinct breach of law.
  4. Absence of arbitrary power being heart and soul of rule of law.
  5. Equality before law and equal protection of law.
  6. Discretionary powers should be exercised within reasonable limits set by law.
  7. Adequate safeguard against executive abuse of powers.
  8. Independent and impartial judiciary.
  9. Fair and just procedure.
  10. Speedy trial.

Landmark Cases
In the famous case of Keshavananda Bharati Sripadagalvaru & Ors v. State of Kerala & Anr2 the court propounded the principle of basic structure and held that any part of the constitution can be amended without modifying the basic structure of it.

In the case of Indira Nehru Gandhi v. Raj Narain 3 , the court decided that the rule of law is also a part of the basic structure of the constitution and hence, it cannot be amended.

In the case of State of Bihar v. Sonawati Kumari 4 , the court held that as per the concept of rule of law , all the autjorities operating within the state including executive government is bound to obey the rules.

In the case of Union of India v. Raghubir Singh 5 , the court held that the principle of rule of law is a considerable degree which governs the lives of the people and regulates the functions of the state from the decision of the superior courts.

Exception To "Rule Of Law"

Besides its features, there are some exceptions attached to rule of law, they are:
  1. President and governors are provided with some immunity through articles 361, 361 (2), 361 (3), and 361 (4) of the Indian constitution.
  2. Immunity to the foreign diplomats.
  3. Immunity to the Supreme Court and high court judges including article 121 of the Indian constitution which restricts the discussion on the conduct of such judges in parliament.
  4. Few laws of the land, namely Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA) and National Security Act, 1980 (NSA).

Rule Of Law In Modern Sense

In today's scenario, the Dicey's concept of rule of law is not accepted in totality. The modern concept of the rule of law is fairly wide and therefore it sets up an ideal for any government to achieve. The modern idea of rule of law was formed by the international commission of jurist, otherwise called the Delhi declaration, 1959, which was later affirmed at Lagos in1961. According to the modern concept, the rule of law implies that the functions of the government in a free society should be so exercised in which the dignity of a man as an individual is upheld.

The international commission of jurist divided itself into certain working committees, namely committee on individual liberty, and the rule of law, committee on government and rule of law , committee on criminal administration and rule of law, and committee on judicial process and rule of law. The committee on individual liberty and rule of law stated that the state should not pass discriminatory laws, the state should not interfere with religious beliefs, and the state should not place undue restrictions on freedom.

The committee on criminal administration and rule of law stated that rule of law means stated that rule of law means independent judiciary, independent legal profession and standard of professional ethics.

According to federalist Kin Davis, there are seven types of modern law; namely, Law and Orders, principles of natural law, fixed rules and regulations eliminate the idea discretion, due and fair process of law, preferences for judges and court of law to executive authority and administrative tribunals, and judicial review of administrative action.

Thus, the rule of law in modern sense ensures that there is encouragement of political interest and where the criticism of the government is not only permitted but also given a positive merit.

The idea of rule of law was not totally perfect but it has taken charge of administration powers and understated them with their measures and that's the reason for the principle of rule of law to be adopted by various countries as the watchdog of the constitution. It is the best tool to achieve the supremacy of law.

The modern concept proposed by David provides a broad concept as well as it makes it possible for the government to use it in a graceful manner as the main task of the administrative law is to fulfil the gap between power and liberty thus the government under the guideline of rule of law makes rules and conditions which do not intercept with any individual dignity. So, it can be concluded that �

"Genuine freedom requires the rule of law and justice and a legal framework in which the rights of some are not made sure about by the denial of rights to other people".
Written By: Ziya Praveen, 3 year LLB (Hons)

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