The notion of the Rule of Law is that the State is governed by the law, not by the monarch or the people’s chosen representatives. A country that enshrines the rule of law will be one in which the constitutional authority of the state is the fundamental and central law from which all other laws derive its force. The word “Rule of Law” is derived from the French expression ‘La Principle de Legalite’ which translates to the concept of legality, which applies, as opposed to the arbitrariness of a monarch, to a democracy founded on rules of law and justice. In the most profound sense, the principle of the rule of law is the cornerstone upon which modern democratic society is built and strives to develop itself.
One of the most detailed analysis of ‘Rule of Law’ in general was done by Professor A.V. Dicey in 1885. He propagated three postulates/principles in his analysis which formed the crux of his analysis and were also considered as the foundation of the Rule of Law. They were; i) Supremacy of Law ii) Equality before Law and iii) The predominance of Legal Spirit.
The Rule of Law is a common aspiration, declared as a pre-condition for appropriate modern governance by foreign organizations and national governments, but in India it is only in the British rule that that the idea of ‘rule of law’ was embedded in the land governed by Dharma. Basically, Indians are very realistic minded and never gave excessive meaning to the dead letter of law that they complied with. Unfortunately, owing to the influence of the English education, Independent India’s so-called educated leaders struggled to access the exalted values of its predecessors, which controlled the administration of justice in the pre-invasion period. The result of this development is that the Constitution of India is substantially based on Western principles and does not maintain the people’s social, political, educational and moral ethos.
The Constitution is the fundamental norm of the nation from which all other laws derive their powers, thereby acting subordinate to it and upholding the provisions of the Rule of Law provided for in the Indian Constitution. The Preamble to the Constitution contains the terms right, liberty and equality, which are a strong sign of a just and equitable structure that disregards any existing inequality between the masses due to their stature in society. In Article 14 of the Constitution of India, which lays down the concept of equality before law and equal protection of the law. Also, Article 17 which abolishes the social practices of ‘untouchability’. It is the principle of A.V. Dicey that has been incorporated i.e., equality before law. Rule of Law is deemed to be a part of the fundamental foundation and, therefore it cannot be abolished or even destroyed by the Parliament.
There is a plethora of cases where the notion of Rule of Law was discussed and came into light. A few of them will be discussed here:
- A D M Jabalpur v Shivkanth Shukla:
This case is also known famously as the Habeas Corpus case. The question that was posed before the honorable court was whether, aside from Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, there was any rule of law in India. It was in the sense of the emergency proclamation that the enforcement of Articles 14, 21 and 22 was suspended. The majority of the bench’s answer to this question was in the negative but Justice H R Khanna dissented this majority and observed that even in the absence of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, without the authority of the law, the state has no right to deprive a citizen of his life and liberty. The difference between a lawless society and one ruled by laws would cease to have any significance without such sanctity of life and liberty. The rule of law is now the common practice of all democratic cultures.
2. Kesavananda Bharati v State of Kerala:
The Supreme Court ruled that the rule of law is an integral component of the constitutional framework and that, as such no Act of Parliament may be allowed to amend it, thus explaining how the law is superior to any other authority of men.
3. Maneka Gandhi v Union of India:
In this very important case, the Supreme Court had ruled and ensured that exercise of power in an arbitrary manner by the government would not infringe the rights of the people as this would be against the spirit of the rule of law which forms the core of the Constitution.
In every legal and political system, the Rule of Law concept is indispensable. It imbibes the notions of equality, equity and non-arbitrariness. Today, the rule of law in India is on the verge of losing its grounds as a strong civil order principle because it is no longer the ‘government of law’ that can rule the country, but it is the ‘government of the wise man’ that can rule the nation. The rule of law has struggled to attain equality among individuals in a pluralistic society such as India. It has failed because in India even the most benevolent law can be executed in the most tyrannical manner. Rule of law in India failed to instil confidence among its people even after almost 300 hundred years of its rule in this country. We see today a discontent between people and the judicial system and also a discontent among a vast number of people because they are deprived of justice or because the justice they deserve is delayed in its delivery. The phenomenon of wrongdoings in courts, politics and the country’s bureaucrats showed the holes in the notion of the ‘rule of law’.
- Upendra Baxi, International Journal on Human Rights, Rule of Law in India,6, Int. J. Hum. Rights, 1, 1-7(2007)
- Avishek Malhotra, Rule of Law in India, iPleaders(October 19, 2019, 10:40 PM) https://blog.ipleaders.in/rule-of-law-india-analysis/amp/
- Devesh Kapur, Strengthening India’s Rule of Law, Mint(June 9, 2014, 11:23 AM) https://www.livemint.com/Opinion/N3pY337lNutBRtXQs7GO3O/Strengthening-Indias-rule-of-law.html
- Shivaraj. S. Huchhanavar, Rule of Law in India, Legal Service India(January 14, 2008, 9:47 PM) http://www.legalservicesindia.com/article/1403/Rule-of-Law-in-India.html
- A D M Jabalpur v Shivkant Shukla, (1976) 2 SCC 521
- Keshavananda Bharti v State of Kerala, (1973) 4 SCC 225
- Maneka Gandhi v Union of India, AIR 1978 SC 597
- Police Act, 1861 , No. 05, Acts of Parliament, 1861, India
- INDIA CONST. art.14
- INDIA CONST. art. 17
- INDIA CONST. art. 21
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