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The Rule Of Law: Evolution, Application, And Challenges In India

In this essay, we will examine the concept of the evolution of the rule of law in India. We will discuss the benefits and drawbacks of the rule of law, as well as how it applies in both the Constitution and administrative law. We will also see how the rule of law emphasizes that everyone has equal standing before the law, and no one is above it. Finally, there are several benefits and drawbacks to establishing the rule of law in India. We will look at these issues and discuss the need for reform to improve India's rule of law.

Rule of law is the grey area between the two extremes, viz. the moral norm of individual liberty and state coercion. When it is at the former end, it is anarchy; when at the latter, it is totalitarian repressive state. In the real world, every state operates somewhere between these two extremes. Democracies have to place restrictions on individual liberty to prevent a descent into anarchy; dictators have to provide a modicum of individual freedom to prevent desperate rebellion.-- R. N. Prasher[1]

Jurist Albert Venn Dicey[2] championed the concept of the rule of law, which has had a significant impact on legal systems around the world. Dicey advocated for the equal application of the law to all individuals, regardless of position or authority. This principle has had a profound impact on both administrative law and the Constitution, and it has become a cornerstone of modern legal systems.

For centuries, the rule of law has been a defining feature of modern societies. It emphasizes the supremacy of the law and states that no individual or entity should wield arbitrary power over another. The rule of law[3]ensures that government officials' decisions and actions follow the law, preventing the arbitrary and capricious exercise of authority.

At its core, the rule of law serves as a safeguard against abuse of power. It encourages fairness, transparency, and accountability in decision-making processes, ensuring that citizens' rights and interests are protected and advanced. It is a principle that states that laws are created through proper legal processes and apply equally to all people, regardless of their social status or position.

One of the most important aspects of the rule of law is its emphasis on due process. [4]Individuals are entitled to a fair and just procedure when their rights or interests are at stake. Due process discourages the arbitrary exercise of power and emphasizes the importance of a transparent and accountable governance system. It ensures that decisions and actions are made using legal principles rather than personal discretion.

The rule of law requires the presence of an independent and impartial judiciary. It ensures that the judiciary is free of political influence or interference and operates independently of the executive and legislative branches. The rule of law not only promotes fairness and accountability but also helps to promote economic development[5].

A predictable and stable legal framework enables businesses to operate efficiently and effectively, thereby encouraging investment and expansion. It also ensures that all contracts are legally binding and property rights are protected, giving individuals and businesses the confidence to invest and innovate.

The rule of law promotes social cohesion and stability. It establishes a framework for resolving disputes and conflicts, ensuring that citizens have access to a fair and just legal system. It also encourages respect for the law and the institutions that uphold it, instilling a sense of civic responsibility and engagement.

Evolution Of The Rule Of Law

The Latin term quod rex non debet esse sub homine, sub deo et legemeans that the king is under no man but under God and Law[6]. It means that the state is governed by the rule of law rather than the whims and fancies of the ruler or any other elected representative of the people. It is a concept that has been used since the beginning of time and is not a new one. Dharma was founded in ancient India on the idea of carrying out one's responsibilities. Dharma is recognized as a legal duty that refers to one's expected social responsibility.

The Rule of Law concept is concerned with ensuring that all persons and authorities within the state, whether public or private, are bound by and entitled to the benefits of laws that have been and will be promulgated and administered publicly. A ruler's duty was to protect the weak while also ensuring social stability and prosperity. The Rule of Law is regarded as an absolute necessity for a disciplined and organized society.

The concept of the Rule of Lawis not explicitly defined in India's Constitution, but Indian courts recognize it.The Supreme Court has declared the Rule of Law as one of the basic features of the Indian Constitution, and no Constitutional Amendment can remove this principle.

The concept of the Rule of Law has been discussed for centuries, dating back to 350 BC by ancient Greek philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle. The phrase "Rule of Law" is derived from the French phrase "La Principe De Legalite" which means the principle of legality[7].The Upanishads are the foundation of Indian law.

These ancient texts state, "Law is the King of Kings." It is more powerful and rigid than that of the monarchs. The law is the highest. By its powers, the weak will triumph over the strong, and justice will be served." This doctrine is enshrined in both the Indian and US constitutions and serves as the foundation for administrative law. [8]

TheRule of Law is based on Aristotle's principles of justice, fairness, and comprehensiveness, as well as the war rules outlined in the Mahabharata and Ramayana, two ancient Indian epics. It is also based on religious ideas, such asthe Dharma Chakra and the Ten Commandments, and seminal historical documents like the Magna Carta, which established the principle thateven governments must follow the law.

Dicey's Rule Of Law

In the words of Prof. A.V.Dicey, "The rule of law means the absolute supremacy or predominance of the regular law as opposed to the influence of arbitrary power and excludes the existence of arbitrariness or even of wide discretionary authority on the part of the government."

Dicey states thatno one shall be held guiltyon conviction or subjected to bodilyor material suffering for anycause other than a breach of law established in the usual course of judicial procedures before the country's Supreme Court.

This proves thatthe law is sovereign and does not tolerate oppression in any kind. Dicey determined that everyone, regardless of rankor status, was subject to the general law of the state andhence could not be ruledbyregular courts.

The Rule Of Law, According To DICEY' Side A, Is Founded On Three Major Concepts:

Supremacy of the Law:

  • The rule of law is an essential component of a fair and just society. It is based on the fundamental principle that no one, regardless of social standing or position of power, should be above the law. The Rule of Law ensures that the government is accountable to the law, not the other way around. This principle is founded on the idea that the law should apply to everyone, including those who make and enforce it. It ensures that all individuals are treated equally before the law and are not punished or subjected to suffering unless there is a clear violation of the law as established through legal procedures.
  • The concept of the Rule of Law can be traced back to several legal systems, including India's Constitutional machinery and the United States Constitution. According to Dicey, the Rule of Law requires that individuals be governed by law rather than arbitrary authority. In essence, the Rule of Law asserts the supremacy of the law over any individual or group, ensuring that justice is served and that everyone is treated equally under the law.

Equal before the law:

  • The principle of equality before the law is vital to modern democracies, ensuring that everyone, regardless of social or economic status, is subject to the same laws and courts. It emphasizes that no one is above the law, including government officials, and that justice must be served to all. Maintaining this principle is critical for ensuring that the legal system remains fair, impartial, and just.
  • It also helps to prevent discrimination and ensures that all individuals are treated equally under the law. The principle of equality before the law is essential for upholding the rule of law and ensuring that the legal system meets the needs of all members of society, regardless of their status. By treating everyone equally, we can create a fair, just, and equitable society for all.

The legal spirit prevails:

  • Albert Venn Dicey's proposal for the predominance of the legal spirit is critical to the rule of law. According to Dicey, courts are the source of authority for upholding the rule of law, and they must be fair and free of outside influences to protect citizens' liberty, equality, and justice. These rights are determined by judicial decisions under England's unwritten constitution. The principle of the predominance of the legal spirit ensures that individuals' rights and freedoms are protected by courts that are impartial and free of bias.

The principle emphasize show important the rule of law is in ensuring justice and equality for all citizens. Even with a written constitution, the absence of an independent judiciary renders it meaningless, as demonstrated during the 1975 emergency. The legal spirit must be prioritized for the rule of law and the judiciary to function properly.

Issues With The Rule Of Law

Despite its importance, the rule of law confronts various problems, and certain concerns must be addressed to ensure its successful implementation.

One of the most serious threats to the rule of law is a lack of access to justice. Many people, particularly those from underprivileged areas, are unable to access the legal system for a variety of reasons, including financial constraints, language obstacles, and a lack of knowledge. This not only violates the concept of equality before the law but also promotes social injustice. To address this issue, legal services must be made more accessible through legal assistance, simplified legal procedures, and the promotion of alternative conflict resolution techniques.

Another problem that weakens the rule of law is corruption. Corruption undermines public trust in the judicial system and promotes a culture of impunity. It allows the powerful to dodge accountability, perpetuating inequity. To combat corruption, it is necessary to enhance anti-corruption agencies, promote openness and accountability in public institutions, and provide proper whistleblower protection.

Furthermore, there is a need to ensure that the judiciary remains independent. The court plays an important role in sustaining the rule of law by applying the law in an unbiased manner and protecting citizens' rights. Political meddling, a lack of resources, and inadequate security for judges can all erode the judiciary's independence. As a result, there is a need to strengthen the judiciary's independence by ensuring that judges are appointed on merit, are insulated from political interference, and have the resources to carry out their tasks.

The deployment of emergency powers poses yet another challenge to the rule of law[9]. During emergencies, such as natural disasters or terrorist attacks, governments may be inclined to suspend the rule of law and limit fundamental rights and freedoms. While emergency powers may be required in such circumstances, they can also be used to stifle opposition and violate human rights. As a result, there is a need to guarantee that emergency powers are employed following the rule of law and human rights and that they are subject to judicial scrutiny.

Finally, there is a need to support the rule of lawglobally[10].The rule of law isnot only a domestic issue, but a global one. In an interconnected globe, one state's actions can have serious consequences for others. As a result, there is a need to promote the rule of law around the worldly supporting international institutions, encouraging respect for international law, and offering technical aid to nations who are failing to apply it.

Instances Of The Rule Of Law In Indian Constitution

The rule of law[11] has played an important role in the growth of Indian democracy. The Indian Constitution incorporates provisions from both the United States and England. The Rule of Law was adopted by the Indian Constitutional Framers and included related provisions in the Indian Constitution[12].The Indian Constitution enshrines the principles of the rule of law, namely equality, liberty, and justice.

The Constitution governs all three branches of government, and any action that violates it is deemed ultra vires. The preamble to the Indian Constitution alsoreferences the rule of law. The rule of law applies to all of the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Indian Constitution, including Part III. If any of these rights are violated, the Indian Constitution's Articles 32 and 226 provide avenues for redress in the Supreme Court and High Court.

Ordinances, orders, bylaws, rules, regulations, notifications, notices, customs, and usage all fall under the definition of law in Article 13(3)(a) of the Indian Constitution. It accepts that all of these are under the Constitution, and if not, it is declared void and unconstitutional. Article 14 of the Indian Constitution guarantees equality before the law, which is a component of the rule of law.

According to Article 32, the Supreme Court may issue five writs: Habeas Corpus, Mandamus, Certiorari, Prohibition, and Quo warranto. It also empowers the Supreme Court with judicial review to prevent ultra vires law. Articles 15, 16, 19, 20, and 21 of the Indian Constitution deal with the preservation of the rule of law.

In India, the Constitution is the supreme law from which the government derives authority. As a result, the Indian Constitution effectively enforces the rule of law.

In the case of Indira Nehru Gandhi v. Raj Narain, 1975, the Supreme Court ruled that "the rule of law embodied under Article 14 is the basic structure of the Indian Constitution and cannot be destroyed by any Constitutional Amendment under Article 368 of the Constitution."

In Union of India v. President, Madras Bar Association, the Supreme Court ofIndia ruled that "the Rule of Law has many aspects, one of them is that in case of dispute between the citizens, it should be decided by a judge who is impartial and independent, similarly while deciding the legality of the actions taken by the executive, the judge should be free from any kind of influence on the part of the executive".

In Secretary, State of Karnataka, and Ors. v. Umadevi and Ors.,it was held that it is clear that adherence to the rule of equality in public employment is a basic feature of the Indian Constitution, and because the rule of law is the core of the Indian Constitution, a court would undoubtedly be disabled for passing an order upholding the violation of Article 14 or ordering the disregard of the need to comply with the provisions of Article 14 read with Article 16 of the Constitution.

In Veena Sethi v. State of Bihar, the Supreme Court ruled that "the rule of law is not only for those who have the resources to fight for their rights. The Court applied the rule to the poor and expanded the Locus Standi principle to assist the poor."

In Keshavananda Bharti v. State of Kerela, the Supreme Court, by majority, overruled the decision in Golaknath's Case and held that"the Parliament has wide powers of amending the Constitution, which extends to all Articles, but the amending power is not unlimited and does not include the power to destroy the basic framework of the Constitution. Article 368 imposes implied limitations on amending power, within which the Parliament has the authority to amend all articles of the Constitution. Thus, the Rule of Law triumphed."

The Supreme Court ruled in Ramana Dayaram Shetty v. International Airport Authority that "the great purpose of the rule of law is the protection of individuals from the arbitrary exercise of power, wherever it is found".

In re: Arundhati Roy, Justice Sethi observed that "the Constitution has assigned the special task of establishing the rule of law to the judiciary." The Court has used Judicial Activism to broaden theconcept of Rule of Law.

Application Of The Rule Of Law In Administrative Law

The concept of the rule of lawin administrative law did not existin ancient or medieval India. The king was the source of justice and upheld all laws. He was considered an outlaw.
The Rule of Law was ignored during British rule, despite being followed in Britain. The East India Company has expressed a desire to expand its trade, revenue, and territory. It gave little consideration to law enforcement andfair justice.

The legal concept of the rule of law in the Constitution was introduced during the postcolonial era. Although the rule of law was not explicitly stated, it was questioned and acknowledged in the case of ADM Jabalpur v UOI. The Court's question was "whether the rule of law was present in the constitution other than Article 21". This issue emerged when rights under Articles 14, 21, and 22 were suspended during the declaration of an emergency.

The majority decision was unfavorable. However, Justice H.R Khanna issued a dissenting opinion, stating that "even in the absence of Article 21 of the Constitution, the state has no authority to deprive a person of his life and liberty without a legal basis." Without such reverence for life and liberty, the distinction between a lawless and a law-governed society would be meaningless."

The Rule of Law is important because it governs the powers exercised by government officials. Given the breadth and diversity of our legal system, it is critical to keep checks and balances on administrative actions that directly or indirectly affect an individual's constitutionally guaranteed rights. The case of Som Raj v. State of Haryana recognized the Rule of Law while emphasizing the absence of arbitrary power as a critical component.

To maintain a high standard of checks and balances on administrative actions, the Court in Union of India v Raghubir Singh emphasized the judiciary's independence and supremacy as a critical component of the Rule. Furthermore, the rule of law requires that a specific procedure be followed when exercising power over citizens' rights. Acts that violate due process of law may be considered violations of the law. Article 21 clearly states that when acitizen's right to life and liberty is violated, a 'procedure established by law' must be used.

The Court statedin the case of Commissioner of Punjab vs. Om Prakash that the Rule of Law is a fundamental component of the Indian Constitution. If the aggrieved party raises an issue about anadministrative action that does not meet the standard,it must be reversed.

How Can We Make The Rule Of Law More Optimal

There are a variety of actions that can be implemented to improve the rule of law. These efforts include increasing openness and accountability, improving access to justice, strengthening institutions, advocating for human rights, and supporting the rule of law around the world.

One strategy to improve transparency and accountability is to make government institutions open to public examination. This can be accomplished by making information available to the public and holding government officials accountable for their actions. This can be accomplished by encouraging the use of open data, ensuring public officials are subject to oversight, and increasing transparency in public procurement.

Another strategy to improve the rule of law is to increase access to justice. This can be accomplished by making legal services affordable, accessible, and available to everyone. This can be accomplished by providing legal help to people who cannot pay it, encouraging alternative dispute resolution channels, and streamlining legal procedures. Furthermore, public legal education can be fostered to ensure that everyone understands their legal rights and responsibilities.

Institutional strengthening is also critical to ensuring that the rule of law operates optimally. Strong institutions are required to ensure that laws are enforced impartially and that all individuals are held accountable for their activities. This can be accomplished by encouraging the independence of the court, ensuring that law enforcement forces are adequately resourced and equipped, and fostering the separation of powers.

Promoting human rights is another strategy to improve the rule of law. Human rights are a fundamental component of the rule of law, and protecting them is critical to ensuring that everyone is treated fairly under the law. This can be accomplished by advocating for the protection of civil and political rights, as well as economic, social, and cultural rights.

Finally, strengthening the rule of law on worldwide scale is critical to ensuring that it benefits everyone. This can be accomplished by supporting international organizations that promote the rule of law, encouraging respect for international law, and offering technical assistance to governments trying to apply the rule of law. Furthermore, encouraging global collaboration on issues such as corruption and terrorism can assist in ensuring that the rule of law is respected worldwide.

Albert Venn Dicey's promotion of the rule of law has had a significant impact on legal systems all over the world. It emphasizes the equality of all individuals before the law, the supremacy of the law, and the value of fair and just procedures.

The rule of law regulates the use of power, ensures accountability, and promotes a just society. While Dicey's concept is limited, today's understandingof the rule of law encompasses a broader range of rights and principles thatreflect society's changing needs. It is still a basic principle of administrative law and a necessary component of democratic societies.

  1. Rule Of Law Quotes (61 quotes),
  2. Diva Rai, Rule of Law and the Dicey Concept - iPleaders Blog, iPleaders (Jun. 14, 2019),
  3. Diva Rai, Rule of Law and the Dicey Concept - iPleaders Blog, iPleaders (Jun. 14, 2019),
  4. The Project Gutenberg eBook of Common Sense, by Thomas Paine,
  5. LawBhoomi, Rule of Law, LawBhoomi (Sep. 8, 2022),
  6. As quoted in T.N Godavarman Thirimulpad v Ashok Khot (2006) 5 SCC 1
  7. Author I.P. Massey, Administrative Law, 10th Ed. 2022
  8. Author C.K. Takwani, Lectures on Administrative Law,7th Ed. 2021.
  9. Promoting the Rule of Law, Commonwealth,
  10. What is the rule of law? | UNODC,
  11. Diva Rai, Rule of Law and the Dicey Concept - iPleaders Blog, iPleaders (Jun. 14, 2019),
  12. The Constitution of India 1950

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