Demystifying the Fundamentals of the Rule of Law in Government

fundamentals of the rule of law

Rule of Law is the absolute supremacy or predominance of the law over everybody – both 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 popularized 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 law of the land and such established law should be regarded as supreme”.

The phrase has other phrases like “that no citizen can be punished except as prescribed by the law; which means that no one can be punished without trial and that the law must be known to all citizens. In other words, the rule of law emphasizes the supremacy of the law over individuals and government, it guarantees peoples liberty and equality of all individuals before the laws of the land.

The major aim of the rule of law is to ensure that the government rules in accordance with the laws of the land.

The Main Principles and Features of the Rule of Law

Supremacy of the law:

It means that the law of a state is supreme or higher than anybody in the state. A citizen is deemed innocent until proven guilty by the law court. Anybody who is arbitrarily arrested and detained for more than twenty-four hours can apply to the law court for a writ of habeas corpus.

Equality before the Law:

It means that nobody is above the law. The law is no respecter of persons irrespective of their position. In Dicey’s view, all men are equal before the laws of the land. All citizens of a country should enjoy equal access to law facilities, equal rights to fair hearings, and legal advice in the court of law. This principle assumes the notion of legality, which means due process of law in dealing with offenders.

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 a law court that has the exclusive jurisdiction to handle such cases according to the constitution. The UN 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a good basis on which the protection of citizens’ rights is hinged.

More Features of the Rule of Law

Access to legal facilities is a fundamental aspect of the rule of law. It means that individuals should have the means and opportunity to seek legal remedies and redress in a fair and efficient manner. This includes access to courts, legal representation, and other legal resources. Without such access, the rule of law cannot be upheld, as individuals would be unable to assert their rights, seek justice, or challenge actions by the government or other entities that may infringe upon their rights.

Rule of law - lawyers posing for a photo
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Provision of the constitution

The rule of law emphasizes that a nation’s legal framework must be based on a written constitution that outlines the fundamental principles, structure of government, and protection of individual rights. The constitution acts as a supreme law that both citizens and government institutions must adhere to. It sets the rules and limits for the exercise of state power and ensures that government actions are consistent with the law. A well-defined constitution is crucial for ensuring that the government operates within the bounds of the law and respects individual liberties.

Fair hearing

The principle of a fair hearing is a crucial component of the rule of law. It entails that every individual is entitled to a fair and impartial process when their rights or interests are at stake. This means that individuals must be given the opportunity to present their case, confront evidence and witnesses against them, and have the proceedings conducted by an unbiased and independent tribunal. The right to a fair hearing ensures that justice is dispensed in a just and equitable manner, and it is essential for upholding the rule of law and protecting individual rights.

The law should be made public

Transparency and accessibility of the law are essential to the rule of law. It implies that laws and regulations should be made available to the public, and their application should be predictable and consistent. Citizens should be aware of the laws that govern them, and the legal system should not operate in secrecy. Publicly accessible laws promote accountability, enable citizens to know and exercise their rights and prevent arbitrary or discriminatory use of legal powers. It also ensures that individuals are not subjected to “secret laws” or unpredictable legal consequences.

Problems of Application of the Rule of Law

The rule of law has maximum liberty for all the individuals in society. However, the effect of the rule of law is frustrated by the following:

Immunity provision:

Certain categories of public office holders like the president, diplomats, judges, legislatures, etc. may not be sued in the law court while the tenure of their respective offices lasts. In international law, foreign diplomats are not tried under the laws of their host countries.

Customs and traditions:

The practice of some people in terms of customs and traditions may hinder the full enjoyment of peoples’ rights. This limits the working of the rule of law.

Delegated legislation:

The delegation of law-making power to some bodies other than the legislature often brings about the complexity of law and abuse of such power which may lead to the violation of fundamental human rights of the citizens even without the opportunity of seeking redress.

Administrative tribunals:

This are quasi judiciary which may not give room for fair judgment, fair hearing, protection of human rights, and the right to exercise appeal against erroneous judgment due to the fact that tribunals are not legal courts the members may not have full legal knowledge

Illiteracy, ignorance, and abject poverty:

Where there is a high level of illiteracy many will be ignorant of their rights or how to get redress when such rights are violated. The cost of litigation also discourages poverty-ridden citizens from pursuing justice.

Factors that Can Significantly Aid the Operation of the Rule of Law

Independent judiciary

 An independent judiciary is a cornerstone of the rule of law. It means that the judiciary is free from political influence, interference, or manipulation. The judges are impartial and make decisions based on the law and evidence, not on the instructions of the government or other powerful interests. This independence ensures that the judiciary can serve as a check on the other branches of government, safeguard individual rights, and provide a fair and unbiased interpretation and application of the law.

Press freedom

Press freedom is vital for the rule of law because it ensures that information is disseminated without censorship or undue government control. A free press can hold the government and other powerful entities accountable by investigating and reporting on issues of public interest. This transparency and accountability help prevent abuse of power, corruption, and violations of the law. It also allows citizens to stay informed and engaged, which is essential for a functioning democracy and the rule of law.

The law to be kept open

Keeping the law open means that laws and regulations should be easily accessible and understandable to the general public. This promotes transparency, accountability, and adherence to the rule of law. When the law is clear and accessible, individuals can know their rights and responsibilities, and they can hold the government accountable for following the law. Open laws prevent arbitrary or discriminatory enforcement, as everyone can understand and follow the legal framework.

Quick dispensation of justice

Swift and efficient justice is crucial for upholding the rule of law. Delays in legal proceedings can undermine the rule of law because justice delayed is often perceived as justice denied. Quick dispensation of justice ensures that disputes are resolved in a timely manner, preventing prolonged uncertainty and potential injustices. It also deters potential wrongdoers, as they know that they will face legal consequences without undue delay.

Period of detention

The period of detention refers to the duration for which an individual can be held in custody without trial or formal charges. Limiting the period of detention is important for upholding the rule of law and protecting individual rights. Excessive or indefinite detention without due process can violate the principle of a fair hearing and the presumption of innocence. The rule of law requires that individuals are promptly informed of the charges against them, provided with a fair trial, and not subjected to arbitrary or extended detention.


The principles are integral to the concept of the rule of law. They ensure that legal systems are just, predictable, and accessible and that individuals have the means to seek legal remedies and protect their rights. The rule of law is a foundational principle for maintaining a just and democratic society, where the government is accountable and individual rights are safeguarded.

Finally, a well-functioning rule of law needs to be enhanced. Thus, independent judiciary, press freedom, open laws, quick dispensation of justice, and limitations on the period of detention all contribute to a just and accountable legal system that respects individual rights and ensures the fair and equal application of the law.


  1. What are the limitations to the application of the Rule of Law?
  2. Discuss the factors that can ensure or aid the successful operation of the Rule of Law
  3. What do you understand by freedom of the press with respect to the operation of the rule of law?
  4. The principle of fair hearing implies that every person is entitled to a fair and impartial process when their rights or interests are at stake. Discuss.
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