Meaning, Definition and Importance of Rule of Law

The Rule of law is a fundamental principle in democratic societies that emphasizes the importance of the law and legal institutions in governing society. It refers to the idea that everyone, regardless of their status or position, is subject to the same laws and legal system, and that the law should be applied fairly and impartially.

The rule of law also includes the idea that the law is superior to individual whims and preferences, and that the power of the state is limited by the law. This means that the government must follow the same laws and legal procedures as everyone else, and that individuals have the right to challenge government actions in court.

In essence, the rule of law ensures that there is a level playing field for everyone in society, and that disputes and conflicts are resolved through legal means rather than through force or coercion. It is a key component of a stable, just, and prosperous society, and is essential for protecting individual rights and freedoms.

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According to Prof. Dicey, Rule of Law has three meanings:

Firstly, it means, in the first place, the absolute supremacy or predominance of regular law as opposed to the influence of arbitrary power. It excludes the existence of arbitrariness or even of wide discretionary authority on the part of the Government.

Secondly, it means equality before the law or equal subjection of all classes to the ordinary lav of the land administered by the ordinary law courts. Everyone, whatever his position, right from State Minister to policeman, is governed by the ordinary law of the land and personally liable for anything done by him contrary to that law, and is subject to the jurisdiction of the ordinary counts of justice, civil or criminal. On this point Dicey distinguished ‘Droit dministratiff from ‘Rule of Law’. He was very much critical of the system of French legal system of Droit Administratiff. On the basis of above analysis, he said that in England administrative law does not exist

Thirdly, rule of law may be used as formula for expressing the fact that in England, the law of the Constitution, is not the source bit the consequence of the rights of individuals, as defined and enforced by the courts.

According to Dicey, administrative law is based on the following ideas which are against the principle of Rule of law, viz. :

(1) That the Government and its servants possess special rights, privileges and prerogatives as against private citizens An individual in his dealings with the State, does not stand on the same footing as that on which he stands in dealings with his neighbour.

(2) That the Government and its officials should be independent of and free from the jurisdiction of ordinary courts.

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With the combination of these two basic assumptions the characteristics of administrative law may be traced as under :

The first of these characteristics implies that the relation of the Government and its officials towards private citizens must be regulated by a body of rules which are in reality laws, but which are very much different from the laws which govern the relation of one private person to another person.

The second characteristic of Administrative Law is that ordinary judicial Tribunals have no concern whatever with matters at issue between a private person and the State, i.e., with questions of administrative law but that suc’ questions must be determined by administrative courts.

Thirdly, the questions relating to jurisdiction of ordinary Judicial Courts and Administrative Courts are determinable only by administrative bodies.

The fourth characteristic of administrative law lies in its tendency to protect from supervision c control of the ordinary Court of law, any servant of the State who is guilty of an act, however, illegal, whilst acting in bona fide obedience to the orders of his superiors. Thus, according to
Dicey under administrative law wide discretionary powers have been given to administrative authorities and they are not subjected to ordinary law of the land Rule of law is antithesis of arbitrary powers. Subjection of

Government to the law is the basic requirement of Rule of Law, therefore, Dicey was of the view that administrative law was not in operation in England, and it was opposed to rule of law, with the common law and with the liberty of the subjects.

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Dicey’s denunciation of this institution was based on mistaken conclusion. It has been admitted that this picture was wrong and French administrative courts have striven to impose effective control on officials and to raise the standard of Administration. Administrative law in modern times is a potent weapon “to control executive power by law and channelize it by fair and proper procedure”. The Conceil d’Etat in France, and administrative court, in its judicial and controlling functions has achieved a high degree of objectivity. They concern themselves with the merits and with the legality of an administrative act.

In simple words, rule of law is not opposed to administrative law. Like rule of law administrative law checks and controls the discretionary powers of administrative authorities. Under administrative law, as it is conceived today, courts can restrain excesses of administrative authorities and Courts are independent of executive.

The Constitution of India enshrines the modern approach to the Rule of law and provides for an independent and impartial judicial system, which is free from all influences. The principle of Rule of Law permeates the entire field of administration. Every organ of the State-whether it be the legislature or the executive or the judiciary is regulated by this principle. In a large number of cases, for example, Indira Nehru Gandhi v. Raj Narain (AIR 1975 SC 2295), S.P. Gupta v. Union of India (AIR 1982 SC 149), P. Sambha Murthy v. State of A.P. (AIR 1987 SC 663), D. C. Waghwa v. State of Bihar (AIR 1987 SC 579). The Apex Court has observed that the rule of law pervades the Constitution as its basic feature. Even an amendment of the Constitution cannot take away Rule of Law.

Article 14 of the Constitution lays down that the State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of laws. The  Indian Constitutional system is based upon the principle of the absence of  arbitrary power, which is the basic requirement of Rule of Law.

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Prof I.P. Massey says, “The modern concept of the Rule of Law is fairly wide and therefore, sets an ideal for any government to achieve. This concept was developed by the International Commission of Jurists known as Delhi Declaration, 1959 which was later on confirmed at Lagos in 1961. According to this formulation, the Rule of Law implies that the functions of the Government in a free society should be so exercised as to create conditions in which the dignity of man as individual is upheld. This dignity requires not only the recognition of certain civil or political rights but also creation of certain political, social, economic, educational and cultural conditions which are essential to the full development of his personality.

During the last few years the Supreme Court of India has developed some fine principles of Third World Jurisprudence, developing the same view.

Constitutionalism further extended the reach of the Rule of Law to the poor and the downtrodden, the ignorant and the illiterate, who constitute large bulk of humanity in India.

Importance of Rule of Law in a Welfare State

The rule of law is a fundamental principle in any democratic society, but it takes on added significance in a welfare state. A welfare state is a system of government that seeks to provide a social safety net for its citizens, ensuring that everyone has access to basic necessities such as food, shelter, healthcare, and education. In such a state, the rule of law is essential for ensuring that these welfare programs are administered fairly, efficiently, and in accordance with the law.

One of the key benefits of the rule of law in a welfare state is that it ensures that the government provides its citizens with the services they need to live a decent life. This is particularly important for vulnerable populations, such as the poor, the elderly, and those with disabilities, who may not have the means to provide for themselves. By establishing clear rules and procedures for the administration of welfare programs, the rule of law helps ensure that these programs are accessible and equitable for all citizens.

In addition, the rule of law is important in a welfare state because it helps prevent abuse and corruption in government. When the government has extensive powers to provide welfare services, there is a risk that those in power will abuse these powers for their own benefit. However, the rule of law provides a framework for holding government officials accountable for their actions and ensures that they can be held responsible if they act outside the bounds of the law.

Moreover, the rule of law also plays a crucial role in promoting transparency and accountability in government. A welfare state involves a significant amount of government spending, and the rule of law ensures that this spending is carried out in a transparent manner and subject to public scrutiny. This promotes trust in government and helps to build a more cohesive and equitable society.

Finally, the rule of law in a welfare state is crucial for protecting individual rights and freedoms. Welfare programs are often controversial and can be seen as a form of government intrusion into the lives of citizens. However, the rule of law ensures that these programs are administered in a manner that respects the individual rights and freedoms of citizens.

In conclusion, the rule of law is essential in a welfare state. It ensures that government services are accessible, equitable, and administered in a transparent and accountable manner. It helps prevent abuse and corruption in government and promotes trust in public institutions. Furthermore, the rule of law protects individual rights and freedoms and helps to build a more cohesive and equitable society. Without the rule of law, a welfare state cannot function effectively, and citizens may not receive the services they need to live a decent life.

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