Meaning And Definition Of The Rule Of Law: Principles And Features

Table Of Contents

  • Meaning Of The Rule Of Law
  • The Main Principles And Features Of The Rule Of Law
  • Other Principles And Features Of The Rule Of Law
  • Factors That Limit The Application Of The Rule Of Law Or Why The Rule Of Law Cannot Operate Successfully.
  • Factors That Can Ensures Or Aid The Successful Operation Of The Rule Of Law
  • How Individual Liberty Is Safeguarded By The Rule Of Law And The Importance Of Rule Of Law In A Modern State
  • Advantages Of The Rule Of Law

Meaning Of The Rule Of Law

For a working definition, we may define the phrase, “Rule Of Law”, as the absolute supremacy or predominance of law over everybody: both the rulers and the ruled and all decisions taken in a country. According to Professor A.V Dicey ( a Briton), a professor of English law, who developed and popularised the phrase ” Rule Of Law” in his book titled: “Introduction To The Law Of The Constitution”. Published in 1885, “those entrusted with the administration of a country, should rule or exercise their authority in accordance with the established laws of the land; and such established laws should be regarded as supreme”. The phrase says that a government rules arbitrarily if it exercises power without any regard to the established laws of the land.
That is, the government should rule according to the provisions of the constitution and that the government should be subject to the law. The phrase has other phases like, that no citizen can be punished except as prescribed by law; which means that no one can be punished without trial. That the law must be known to every citizen.

The rule of law is fundamental to the principle of separation of powers which condemns the concentration of powers in one athority thereby leading to arbitary rule.

The rule of law is one of the basic fundamental principles of every constitution of the nations of the world but with slight difference from one ccountry to the other in the degree of its application.

The Main Principles And Features Of The Rule Of Law

Professor A.D Dicey propounded the following three principles or tenets or features of the Rule of Law which also serve as its meanings:

1. Equality Before The Law: In Dicey’s view, all men are equal before the laws of the land. This means that, no one is above the law and the law is no respecter of persons. The law therefore should not be bent to favour any oerson whether rich or poor, oung or old, king or servant, literate or illiterate, etc. He pinciple therefore statess that all citizens of a counry should enjoy equal access to law facilities, equal right to fair hearing, legal advice in the court of law, etc.

2. Impartiality: This principle assumes the notion of legally, which means due process of law in dealing with offenders. That is to say, no one should be made to suffer any penalty or loss of personal liberty or punished in any way unless found guilty of breaking the law of the land which must however be established in the ordinary court.

Even an accused person should be assumed innocent until a court of law in the lands finds him guilty and the court of law must be presided over by a free, fair and impartial judge. Under this principle according to Dicey, no one should be arrested without being told of his offence, or legally detained for a long period without being charged to court. Everyone is entitled to defend himself with the assistance of a lawyer and should not be tried in special courts or tribunals but in the same courts others are tried. The main aim of the principle of impariality is to protect and ensure the liberties of the citizens.

3. The Rights Of The Individual: This principle states that citizens of a country should enjoy certain basic inalienable rights and liberties under the law, violation of which they have the right to seek redress in the law court. These individual rights which are specified in most written consitutions, commonly referred to as fundamental Human Right together with their limits, as well as and the government protection will accord them.

Other Principles And Features Of The Rule Of Law

1. Absolutely supremacy or predoominance of law over everybody in the land.

2. There should be enough laws to guide the actions of government and citizens so that law and order will be maintained in the society.

3. To avoid a breakdown of law and order and violation of laws and for these law to be enforced, certain agents must e set up.

4. The government should rule in accordance with the laws of the land not arbitrarily.

5. The law should be made known to everybody by making it public and therefore, should not be kept in socrecy.

6. Law’s should not be made to have to have retrospective effects or be back-dated.

7. There should be no government influence or censorship of the press.

8. There must be legal limitations of the actions of the government.

9. Thoses founf guilty of offncces by courts of law should be given the opportunity to appeal against the judgement in higher courts.

10. Punishment meant for an offender must agree with the offence he committed as laid down by the law.

Factors That Will Limit The Application Of The Rule Of Law Or Why The Rule Of Law Cannot Operate Successful

1. State Of Emergency: Citizens of a country may be denied some of their fundamental human rights and the application of the rule of law limited when a state of emergency is declared in a country. State emergency can lead to government acquiring wider and uncontrollable powers, indiscriminate arrest and detention without trial or at time secret trials, etc.

2. The Type Of Government: The type of government adopted in a country for instance military rule and one party system of government that tend to be autocratic and dictatorial act as serious limitation to the application of the rule of law.

3. Partial Judiciary: The rule of law is also limited by a partial judiciary or lack of independence of the judiciary.

4. Special Or Administrative Tribunals: These tribunals adopt special system of trial different from that of the ordinary courts which the rule of law forbids and they do not allow appeal against their judgements.

5. Poverty; Illiteracy And Ignorance: These greatest three enemies of man do not allow citizens of a country to know and fight for their rights especially when they are infringed upon.

6. Granting Of Discretional Powers: Sometimes, government officials are granted considerable discretional powers to enable them carry out their duties effectively. These officials often misuse thee powers to the extent that the rule of law maybe seriously undermined.

7. Diplomatic Immunity: Ambassadors cannot be sued and prosecuted in the countries where they are serving rather they can be repatriated and this undermines the rule of law.

8. Obnoxious Laws: Many governments deliberately enact laws that empower the Head of State to arrest and detain citizens without trial and this limits the application of the rule of law.

9. Police Brutality: In many countries especially developing ones, the police arrest, detain and brutalise citizens for mere accusation of an offence. These acts negate the rule of law that sas that an accused person should be assumed innocent until a court of law presided over by free, fair and impartial judge finds him guilty.

10. Parliamentary Immunity: Members of the parliament cannot be sued or prosecuted based on the statements they make on the floor of the house no matter how false they may be which means they are not equal before the law with other citizens.

11. Someone’s Position: Some citizens’ positions like the Head Of State, Ministers, Judges, Governors, etc, make Dicey’s equality before the law a hoax.

12. Integrity Of Judges: When Judges lack moral integrity no matter how independent the judiciary may be, application of the rule of law will be in serious jeopardy.

13. Economic Position: Those in positions of economic wealth in developing countries especially in West Africa have used such positions to render the application of rule of law a ruse. Justice is purchased in court of laws as commodity and only the poor suffers the brunt.

14. Customs And Tradition: The application of the rule of law is undermined in a bid not to violate the customs and tradition of the people.

15. Age Limit: People’s ages play significant role in determined how the rule of law can apply to them. Fot instance, children under sevens years cannot be prosecuted, the legal offence the committed notwithstanding.

16. Security Of The State: The rule of law can be violated with impunity in a bid o maintain the security of a nation. For instance, people can be arrested and detained without trial, their movement restricted, and their property confiscated, etc., all for security reasons.

17. Strikes: When trade unions are on strike, the application of the rule of law is pt in serious jeopardy. For instance, trade unions are free from litigations for barbaric, brutal and unlawful acts of looting, arson, beating up of uncompromising people, etc.

18. Delegated Legislation: Many bodies with powers of delegate legislation have often used such powers to the detriment of the application, statutory instruments bye- laws, etc, have made the rule of law so complex that the citizens do not know the leal implications of their actions and activities.

19. Insanity: The rule of law does nit apply to mentally retarded persons and are therefore, not treated equally before the law.

Factors That Can Ensure Or Aid The Successful Operation Of The Rule Of Law

1. Public trials of the accused persons not secret trials.

2. The press must be free not gagged.

3. Democratic political system in a country.

4. The judiciary must be independent and impartial.

5. Citizens should be granted the right to appeal against any judgement they feel like.

6. There should be no delayed justice which will led to denied justice.

7. Accused persons shoul have access to lawyers to defend them and such lawyers should have access to all relevant files or documents and information concerning their clients.

8. Adequate information should be made available about the existence of different laws especially newly enacted ones.

9. To avoid tyranny, the principles of separation of powers and checks and balances should be adopted in government.

10. There must be a constitution that will embody the laws of the land and spell out the rights, duties and obligations of the citizens.

11. A sovereign parliament will also aid successful operation of the rule of law.

12. Citizens should be made to have basic education which will warrant them to know their rights and when such rights are infringed upon, they can seek redress in court of law.

13. There should be an atmosphere of pace and order in a country because, rule o law is undermined in a period of war.

How Individual Liberty Is Safeguarded By The Rule Of Law And The Importance Of Rule Of Law In A Modern State

1. The principle of rule of law guarantees equality before the law and therefore, nobody no matter how highly placed can use his position to bend the law in his favour in order to cheat the down- trodden as the law is no respecter of persons.

2. The rule of law protects an individual from forfeiting his property without compensation.

3. An individual cannot be arrested without being told of the offence he committed.

4. An individual cannot be made to suffer any penalty or loss of personal liberty or punished in any way unless found guilty of breaking any law of the land which must be established in court.

5. The principle makes it possible for all citizens of a country to enjoy equal access to law facilities, equal rights to fair hearing, legal advice in the court of law, etc.

6. Under the rule of law, an accused person is assumed innocent until a court of law presided over by free, fair and impartial judge finds him guilty.

7. The principle implies absolute supremacy and predominance of law over everybody both rulers and the ruled, therefore, everybody should carry out his affairs in accordance with the law.

8. The principle forbids arbitrary rule by the government i.e exercising power without any regard to the established laws of the land.

9. The rule of law condemns the concentration of power in one authority so as to prevent tyranny.

10. The principle guides the individual from legal detention for a long period without being charged to court.

11. The principle states that an individual is entitled to defend himself with the assistance of a lawyer.

12. It prevents an individual from being tried in special courts or tribunals but in the same courts others are tried.

13. The principle states that citizens of a country should enjoy certain basic inalienable rights and liberties under the law.

14. The rule of law grants the individual the right to seek redress in the law court whenever his rights are violated.

15. The principle prevents law from being of retrospective effects or being back-dated.

16. It forbids government influence or censorship of the press because the press contributes in safeguarding individual liberty.

17. The principle guarantees an appeal against any judgement in higher courts.

18. It places legal limitations to the actions of the government.

Advantages Of The Rule Of law

1. The rule of law guarantees and protects the fundamental human rights of citizens. This implies that every individual is regarded as having certain rights which cannot be infringed upon by other individuals or public officials.

2. It ensures that the powers off government are limited to those actions for which they jave specific authority; and officials are not allowed to exercise arbitrary power.

3. A pillar of the rule of law is the principle of equality. Every man is subject to the ordinary laws of the land as administered by the law courts.

4. The rule of law does not allow a person to be detained for too long without formal charges brought against him. This curbs the powers of the police while guaranteeing the freedom of movement of individuals.

5. As accused is assured of his right to appeal against a judgement of the court which he thinks is erroneous.

6. Laws are made public and not kept in secret.

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