May 27 2015 • Uncategorized • 2915 Views • No Comments on RULE OF LAW


The Expression “ Rule of Law” plays an important role in the administrative law. It provides protection to the people against the arbitrary action of the administrative authorities. The expression ‘rule of law’ has been derived from the French phrase ‘la Principle de legality’. i.e. a government based on the principles of law. In simple words, the term ‘rule of law, indicates the state of affairs in a country


where, in main, the law rules. Law may be taken to mean mainly a rule or principle which governs the external actions of the human beings and which is recognized and applied by the State in the administration of justice.


Rule of Law is a dynamic concept.


It does not admit of being readily expressed. Hence, it is difficult to define it. Simply speaking, it means supremacy of law or predominance of law and essentially, it consists of values.


The concept of the rule of Law is of old origin. Edward Coke is said to be the originator of this concept, when he said that the King must be under God and Law and thus vindicated the supremacy of law over the pretensions of the executives. Prof. A.V. Dicey later developed on this concept in the course of his lectures at the Oxford University. Dicey was an individualist; he wrote about the concept of the Rule of law at the end of the golden Victorian era of laissez-faire in England. That was the reason why Dicey’s concept of the Rule of law contemplated the absence of wide powers in the hands of

government officials. According to him, wherever there is discretion there is room for arbitrariness. Further he attributed three meanings to Rule of Law.


(1) The First meaning of the Rule of Law is that ‘no man is punishable or can lawfully be made to suffer in body or goods except for a distinct breach of law established in the ordinary legal manner before the ordinary courts of the


land. (The view of Dicey, quoted by Garner in his Book on ‘Administrative Law’.)


  • The Second Meaning of the Rule of Law is that no man is above law.


Every man whatever be his rank or condition. is subject to the ordinary law of the realm and amenable to the jurisdiction of the ordinary tribunals (Ibid).


  • The Third meaning of the rule of law is that the general principle of the constitution are the result of judicial decisions determining the rights of private persons in particular cases brought before the court. (View of Dicey, quoted by


Garner in his book on Administrative Law, p.11.)


The view of Dicey as to the meaning of the Rule of Law has been subject of much criticism. The whole criticism may be summed up as follows.


Dicey has opposed the system of providing the discretionary power to the administration. In his opinion providing the discretionary power means creating the room for arbitrariness, which may create as serious threat to individual freedom. Now a days it has been clear that providing the discretion to the administration is inevitable. The opinion of the Dicey, thus, appears to be outdated as it restricts the Government action and fails to take note of the changed conception of the Government of the State.


Dicey has failed to distinguish discretionary powers from the arbitrary powers. Arbitrary power may be taken as against the concept of Rule of Law . In modern times in all the countries including England, America and India, the discretionary powers are conferred on the Government. The present trend is that discretionary power is given to the Government or administrative authorities, but the statute which provides it to the Government or the administrative officers lays down some guidelines or principles according to which the discretionary power is to be exercised. The administrative law is much concerned with the control of the discretionary power of the administration. It is engaged in finding out the new ways and means of the control of the administrative discretion.According to Dicey the rule of law requires that every person should be subject to the ordinary courts of the country. Dicey has claimed that there is no separate law and separate court for the trial of the Government servants in England. He critcised the system of droit administratif prevailing in France. In France there are two types of courts Administrative Court and Ordinary Civil Courts. The disputes between the citizens and the Administration are decided by the Administrative courts while the other cases, (i.e. the disputes between the citizens) are decided by the Civil Court. Dicey was very critical to the separation for deciding the disputes between the administration and the citizens

According to Dicey the Rule of Law requires equal subjection of all persons to the ordinary law of the country and absence of special privileges for person including the administrative authority. This proportion of Dicey does not appear to be correct even in England. Several persons enjoy some privileges and immunities. For example, Judges enjoy immunities from suit in respect of their acts done in discharge of their official function. Besides, Public

Authorities Protection Act, 1893, has provided special protection to the official. Foreign diplomats enjoy immunity before the Court. Further, the rules of

‘public interest privilege may afford officials some protection against orders for discovery of documents in litigation.’ Thus, the meaning of rule of law taken by Dicey cannot be taken to be completely satisfactory.

Third meaning given to the rule of law by Dicey that the constitution is the result of judicial decisions determining the rights of private persons in particular cases brought before the Courts is based on the peculiar character of the Constitution of Great Britain.

In spite of the above shortcomings in the definition of rule of law by Dicey, he must be praised for drawing the attention of the scholars and authorities towards the need of controlling the discretionary powers of the administration.

He developed a philosophy to control the Government and Officers and to keep them within their powers. The rule of law established by him requires that every action of the administration must be backed by law or must have been done in accordance with law. The role of Dicey in the development and establishment of the concept of fair justice cannot be denied.

The concept of rule of law, in modern age, does not oppose the practice of conferring discretionary powers upon the government but on the other hand emphasizing on spelling out the manner of their exercise. It also ensures that every man is bound by the ordinary laws of the land whether he be private citizens or a public officer; that private rights are safeguarded by the ordinary

laws of the land (See Journal of the Indian law Institute, 1958-59, pp. 31-32)

Thus the rule of law signifies that nobody is deprived of his rights and liberties by an administrative action; that the administrative authorities perform their functions according to law and not arbitrarily; that the law of the land are not unconstitutional and oppressive; that the supremacy of courts is upheld and judicial control of administrative action is fully secured.

Basic Principles of the Rule of Law

  • Law is Supreme, above everything and every one. No body is the above law.
  • All things should be done according to law and not according to whim
  • No person should be made to suffer except for a distinct breach of law.
  • Absence of arbitrary power being hot and sole of rule of law
  • Equality before law and equal protection of law
  • Discretionary should be exercised within reasonable limits set by law
  • Adequate safeguard against executive abuse of powers
  • Independent and impartial Judiciary
  • Fair and Justice procedure
  • Speedy Trial

Rule of Law and Indian Constitution

In India the Constitution is supreme. The preamble of our Constitution clearly sets out the principle of rule of law.It is sometimes said that planning and welfare schemes essentially strike at rule of law because they affect the individual freedoms and liberty in may ways. But rule of law plays an effective role by emphasizing upon fair play and greater accountability of the administration. It lays greater emphasis upon the principles of natural justice and the rule of speaking order in administrative process in order to eliminate administrative arbitrariness.

Rule of Law and Case law

In an early case S.G. Jaisinghani V. Union of India and others, (AIR 1967 SC 1427) the Supreme Court portrayed the essentials of rule of law in a very lucid manner. It observed: “ The absence of arbitrary power is the first essential of the rule of law upon which our whole constitutional system is based. In a system governed by rule of law, discretion when conferred upon executive authorities must be continued within clearly defined limits. The rule of law from this points of view means that decisions should be made by the application of known principles and rules and, in general such decision should be predictable and the citizen should know where he is. If a decision is taken without any principle or without any rule it is unpredictable and such a decision is antithesis of a decision taken in accordance with the rule of law”.

The Supreme Court in a case, namely, Supreme Court Advocates on Record

Association V. Union of India, (AIR 1994 SC 268 at p.298) reiterated that absence of arbitrariness is one of the essentials of rule of law. The Court observed. “For the rule of law to be realistic there has to be rooms for discretionary authority within the operation of rule of law even though it has to be reduced to the minimum extent necessary for proper, governance, and within the area of discretionary authority, the existence of proper guidelines or norms of general application excludes any arbitrary exercise of discretionary authority. In such a situation, the exercise of discretionary authority in its application to individuals, according to proper guidelines and norms, further reduces the area of discretion, but to that extent discretionary authority has to be given to make the system workable.The recent expansion of rule of law in every field of administrative functioning has assigned it is a place of special significance in the Indian administrative

law. The Supreme Court, in the process of interpretation of rule of law vis-à-vis operation of administrative power, in several cases, emphasized upon the need of fair and just procedure, adequate safeguards against any executive encroachment on personal liberty, free legal aid to the poor and speedy trail in criminal cases as necessary adjuncts to rule of law. Giving his dissenting opinion in the Death penalty case, Mr. Justice Bhagwati explains fully the significance of rule of law in the following words:


The rule of law permeates the entire fabric of the Constitution and indeed forms one of its basic features. The rule of law excludes arbitrariness, its postulate is ‘intelligence without passion’ and reason free from desire. Wherever we find arbitrariness or unreasonableness there is denial of the rule of law. Law in the context of rule of law does not mean any law enacted by legislative authority, howsoever arbitrary, despotic it may be, otherwise even in dictatorship it would be possible to say that there is rule of law because every law made by the dictator, however arbitrary and unreasonable, has to be obeyed and every action has to be taken in conformity with such law. In such a case too even where the political set-up is dictatorial it is the law that governs the relationship between men

The modern concept of the Rule of Law is fairly wide and, therefore, sets up an idea for 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 an individual is upheld.

During the last few years the Supreme Court in India has developed some fine principles of Third World jurisprudence. Developing the same new constitutionalism further, the Apex Court in Veena Seth v. State (AIR 1983 SC 339) of Bihar extended the reach of the Rule of Law to the poor and the downtrodden, the ignorant and the illiterate, who constitute the bulk of humanity in India, when it ruled that the Rule of Law does not exist merely for those who have the means to fight for their rights and very often do so for the perpetuation of the status quo, which protects and preserves their dominance and permits them to exploit a large section of the community. The opportunity for this ruling was provided by a letter written by the Free Legal Aid Committee, Hazaribagh, Bihar drawing its attention to unjustified and illegal detention of certain prisoners in jail for almost two or three decades.

Recent aggressive judicial activism can only be seen as a part of the efforts of the Constitutional Courts in India to establish rule-of-law society, which implies that no matter how high a person, may be the law is always above him. Court is also trying to identify the concept of rule of law with human rights of the people. The Court is developing techniques by which it can force the government not only to submit to the law but also to create conditions where people can develop capacities to exercise their rights properly and meaningfully. The public administration is responsible for effective implementation of rule of law and constitutional commands, which effectuate

fairly the objective standards laid down by law. Every public servant is a trustee of the society and is accountable for due effectuation of constitutional goals. This makes the concept of rule of law highly relevant to our context.

Droit Administratif

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