Rule of Law is the bedrock of administrative law and constitutional law. Sir Edward Coke was the originator of this concept. It was developed by Dicey in his work ‘The Law and the Constitution’. Dicey attributed following three meanings to this doctrine:-

1.     Supremacy of law:  According to Dicey rule of law means absolute supremacy of law. It is predominance of regular law as opposed to arbitrary and discretionary power. Dicey asserted that wherever there was discretion there was room for arbitrariness which led to insecurity of legal freedom of the citizens. The rule of law requires that the government should be subject to the law, rather than the law subject to the government. The principle implicit in the rule of law is that the executive must act under the law, and not by its own decree or fiat.

2.     Equality before law: According to Dicey there must be equality before law. All persons must be subject to one and same law and no special courts or separate tribunals should be made for authorities.

3.     Judge made constitution: This attribute is specific to England where there is unwritten constitution. In countries which have written constitution certain rights like personal liberty, freedom from arrest etc. is guaranteed by written constitution. In England these rights are result of judicial decisions. Dicey emphasized the role of courts as guarantors of liberty. According to Dicey constitution of Britain is judge made constitution, in absence of specific declarations of rights.  

Traditionally, rule of law denotes absence of arbitrary powers, and therefore, one can denounce the increase of arbitrary or discretionary powers of the administration and advocate controlling it through procedures and other means. The concept of Rule of Law is invoked often to convey the sense that the administration cannot exercise arbitrary powers and that it should function according to law.

Rule of law in India

Under our Constitution the rule of law pervades over the entire field of administration and every organ of the State is regulated by the rule of law. Rule of law permeates the entire fabric of the Constitution and indeed forms one of its basic features. The rule of law is basic rule of governance of any civilized polity. The scheme of Constitution of India is based on the concept of rule of law. In Pancham Chand v. State of H.P., (2008) 7 SCC 117 Supreme Court observed that our Constitution envisages a rule of law and not a rule of men. It recognizes that, howsoever high one may be, he is under the law and the Constitution. All the constitutional functionaries must, therefore, function within the constitutional limits. Various aspects of rule of law have been interpreted by our Supreme Court from time to time.

In Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab, AIR 1982 SC 1325 Supreme Court held that the necessary element of rule of law is that the law must not be arbitrary or irrational and it must satisfy the test of reason. In A.D.M Jabalpur v. Shvikant Shukla, AIR 1976 SC 1207 Supreme Court held that rule of law is the antithesis of arbitrariness. In State of M.P. v. Thakur Bharat Singh, AIR 1967 SC 1170 Supreme Court held that federal structure of the Indian Constitution is founded on certain fundamental principles. One of them is rule of law which includes judicial review of arbitrary executive action. In T.N. Godavarman Thirumulpad v. Ashok Khot, (2006) 5 SCC 1 Supreme Court observed that absence of arbitrary power is the first essential of rule of law upon which our whole constitutional system is based.

Rule of law under the Constitution serves the needs of people without undoubtedly infringing their rights. It recognizes the social reality and tries to adjust itself from time to time avoiding authoritarian path. Doctrine of equality before the law is necessary corollary to the high concept of rule of law accepted by our Constitution. The concept of Rule of Law would lose its vitality if instrumentalities of the State are not charged with the duty of discharging their function in a fair and just manner. It requires that any abuse of power by public officer should be subject to control of courts. In a system governed by rule of law, there is nothing like absolute or unbridled power exercisable at the whims and fancies of the repository of power.

Supreme Court in Zahira Habibulla H. Sheikh v. State of Gujarat, AIR 2004 SC 3114 held that principles of rule of law and due process are closely linked with human rights protection. Such rights can be protected effectively when a citizen has recourse to the courts of law. In Daryao v. State of U.P., AIR 1961 SC 1457 Supreme Court held that binding character of judgments pronounced by courts of competent jurisdiction is essential part of rule of law. In National Legal Services Authority v. Union of India, (2014) 5 SCC 438 Supreme Court held that rule of law is social justice based on public order. The rule of law strikes a balance between society’s need for political independence, social equality, economic development and internal order on one hand and needs of individual, his personal liberty and his human dignity on the other. It is the duty of court to protect this rich concept of rule of law.

Author & Former Judge

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