“The bedrock of our democracy is the rule of law and that means we have to have
an independent judiciary, judges who can make decisions independent of the
political winds that are blowing.”-Caroline Kennedy
In order to understand the concept of rule of law, it is to be comprehended that
the state is governed not by the ruler or the nominated representatives of the
people but by the law. The term ‘Rule of Law’ is nowhere defined in the Indian
Constitution but this term is often used by the Indian judiciary in their
judgments. Rule of law has been declared by the Supreme Court as one of the
basic features of the Constitution so it cannot be amended even by the
constitutional amendment. Rule of law is seen as an integral part of good
As per rule of law, it is required that the people should be governed by the
accepted rules rather than the decisions that are arbitrarily taken by the
rulers. For this, it is essential to keep in mind that the rules that are made
should be general and abstract, known and certain and it should apply equally to
all individuals. Legal limitation on government is the essential attribute of
constitutionalism. Rulers are not above law under the concept of
constitutionalism, government power is divided with laws enacted by one body and
administered by another and for that an independent judiciary exists to ensure
Concept of Rule of Law
The originator of the concept of rule of law was Sir Edward Coke
Justice in James I Reign
The concept of rule of law is of old origin. Greek philosophers such as Plato
and Aristotle discussed the concept of rule of law around 350 BC. Plato wrote
“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”. Aristotle wrote “law should govern and those who are in power should be
servant of the laws.”
The derivation of the phrase ‘ Rule of Law’ is from the French phrase ‘la
principe de legalite’ which implies principle of legality. By this phrase it
refers to a government based on principles of law and not of men. One of the
basic principles of Constitution is rule of law and this concept is up to
standard in both India and America Constitution.
The doctrine of rule of law is the entire basis of Administrative law. As
discussed by Aristotle, the concept of rule of law is grounded in the ideas of
justice, fairness and inclusiveness. Today, an intricate chain of fundamental
ideas is incorporated in rule of law which further encompasses equality before
law, equal treatment before the law for government, independence of judiciary,
consistency, transparency and accountability in administrative law.
Meaning of Rule of Law
To simply understand the meaning of rule of law, it means that no man is above
law and also that every person is subject to the jurisdiction of ordinary courts
of law irrespective of their position and rank.
The term ‘rule of law’ is originated from England and India has taken this
concept. The concept of rule of law further requires that no person should be
subjected to harsh or arbitrary treatment. The word ‘law’ in rule of law means
that whether he is a man or a society, he must not be governed by a man or ruler
but by law. In other words, as per Article 13 of the Indian Constitution rule of
law means law of land.
According to Black’s Law Dictionary:
“Rule of Law” means legal principles of day
to day application, approved by the governing bodies or authorities and
expressed in the form of logical proposition.
According to Oxford Advance Learner’s Dictionary:
“Rule of Law” means the
situation in which all the citizens as well as the state are ruled by the law.
Postulates of Rule of Law
In 1885, Professor A.V Diceydeveloped this concept of Coke and propounded three
principles or postulates of the rule of law in his classic book ‘Law and the
Constitution.’ According to Professor A.V Dicey, for achieving supremacy of law
three principles of postulates must be followed which are as follows:
·Supremacy of law,
·Equality before law and
·Predominance of Legal Spirit
1. Supremacy of law
As per the first postulate, rule of law refers to the lacking of arbitrariness
or wide discretionary power. In order to understand it simply, every man should
be governed by law.
According to Dicey, English men were ruled by the law and the law alone and also
where there is room for arbitrarinessand that in a republic no less than under
a monarchy discretionary authority on the part of the Government must mean
insecurity for legal freedom on the part of its subjects. There must be absence
of wide discretionary powers on the rulers so that they cannot make their own
laws but must be governed according to the established laws.
2. Equality before law
According to the second principle of Dicey, equality before law and equal
subjection of all classes to the ordinary law of land to be administered by the
ordinary law courts and this principle emphasizes everyone which included
government as well irrespective of their position or rank. But such element is
going through the phase of criticisms and is misguided. As stated by Dicey,
there must be equality before law or equal subjection of all classes to the
ordinary law of land. French legal system of Droit Administrative was also
criticized by him as there were separate tribunals for deciding the cases of
state officials and citizens separately.
3. Predominance of Legal Spirit
According to the third principle of Dicey, general principles of the Indian
Constitution are the result of the decisions of the Indian judiciary which
determine to file rights of private persons in particular cases. According to
him, citizens are being guaranteed the certain rights such as right to personal
liberty and freedom from arrest by many constitutions of the states (countries).
Only when such rights are properly enforceable in the courts of law, those
rights can be made available to the citizens. Rule of law as established by
Dicey requires that every action of the administration must be backed and done
in accordance with law. In modern age, the concept of rule of law oppose the
practice of conferring discretionary powers upon the government and also ensures
that every man is bound by the ordinary laws of the land as well as signifies no
deprivation of his rights and liberties by an administrative action.
Rule of Law Under Indian Constitution
In order to develop Indian democracy, rule of law has played a great role. At
the time of framing of Constitution, the framers had two options i.e. USA and
England. Some of the provisions were adopted from USA and some of them were
adopted from England. Rule of law was adopted from England by our constitutional
fathers and many provisions were incorporated in the Indian Constitution. Indian
Constitution is considered to be supreme and no one is above Indian
Constitution. Rule of law is also given impliedly in the preamble and such
concept is enshrined in Part III of the Indian Constitution.
In case of violation of such rights, one can approach Supreme Court or High
Court under Article 32 and 226 of the Indian Constitution. The Constitution of
India is enriched with the principles of law i.e. justice, equality and liberty.
Any law made by the Central government or State government must be complied in
accordance with the Constitution of India. If any law made by the legislature
contravenes with the provisions of the Constitution then such law will be
Under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution, the Supreme Court has the power to
issue writs in the nature of Habeas Corpus, mandamus, prohibition, quo warranto,
and certiorari. The power of judicial review is also given to Supreme Court in
order to prevent any ultra vires law so as to preserve ‘Rule of law’.
Role of Indian Judiciary
There are a plethora of cases where the concept of rule of law was discussed and
came into light. Some of the cases are as follows:
ADM Jabalpur v. Shivkant Shukla 
This case is also known as “Habeas Corpus case”. It is one of the most
importantcase when comes to rule of law. The question that was raised before the
hon’ble court was that whether there was any rule of law in India apart from
Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. It was in context relating to the
proclamation of emergency where the enforcement of Articles 14, 21 and 22 were
Som Raj v. State of Haryana 
In this case it was held that the absence of arbitrary power is the postulate of
rule of law upon which the whole constitutional edifice is dependent.
Union of India v. Raghubir Singh 
In this case it was held by the court that a considerable degree that governs
the lives of the people and regulates the State function flows from the decision
of the superior courts.
Chief Settlement Commissioner, Punjab v. Om Prakash
In this case, Supreme Court observed“In our constitutional system, the central
and most characteristic feature is the concept of rule of law which means, in
the present context, the authority of law courts to test all administrative
action by the standard of legality. The administrative or executive action that
does not meet the standard will be set aside if the aggrieved person brings the
matter into notice.”
Keshvananda Bharti v. State of Kerela 
In this case, the Supreme Court enunciated the concept of rule of law as one of
the most important aspects of doctrine of basic structure.
Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India
In this case Supreme Court declared that Article 14 strikes against
Gadakh Yashwantrao Kankarrao v. Balasaheb Vikhe Patil 
In this case, the ration laid down was “If the rule of law has to be preserved
as the essence of the democracy of which purity of elections is a necessary
concomitant, it is the duty of the courts to appreciate the evidence and
construe the law in a manner which would sub serve this higher purpose and not
even imperceptibly facilitate acceptance, much less affirmance, of the falling
electoral standards. For democracy to survive, rule of law must prevail, and it
is necessary that the best available men should be chosen as people's
representatives for proper governance of the country. This can be best achieved
through men of high moral and ethical values who win the elections on a positive
vote obtained on their own merit and not by the negative vote of process of
elimination based on comparative demerits of the candidates.”
Secretary, State of Karnataka and Ors. v. Umadevi 
A Constitution Bench of this Court has laid down the law in the following
terms:“Thus, it is clear that adherence to the rule of equality in public
employment is a basic feature of our Constitution and since the rule of law is
the core of our Constitution, a court would certainly be disabled from passing
an order upholding a violation of Article 14 or in ordering the overlooking of
the need to comply with the requirements of Article 14 read with Article 16 of
From the above mentioned discussion, it can be concluded that Supremacy of law
is the Aim, Rule of Law is the best tool to achieve the Aim. Some of the efforts
are also taken by the court where the Rule of Law is linked with Human Rights of
the people. Strategy is being evolved by the court by which government can be
forced not only to submit to law but also to create conditions where capacities
can be developed by the people so as to enjoy their rights in proper and
In the Indian society, the rule of law has not achieved the intended results. A
few examples where rule of law was upheld by our judiciary and ensured justice
can be clearly seen in the creation of new avenues seeking remedies for human
rights violations by filing of PIL pleas.
The originator of this concept i.e. Sir Edward Coke, the Chief Justice of King
James I’s reign maintained that the King should be under God and the law and
also he established the supremacy of law against the executive and that there
is nothing higher than law.
 (1976) 2 SCC 521.
 1990 AIR 1176.
 Decided on 18.09.2013.
 AIR 1969 SC 33.
 (1973) 4 SCC 225.
 AIR 1978 SC 597.
 AIR 1994 SC 678.
 (1992) 3 SCR 826.
Written by: Shubham Mongia