Rule of Law : Definition, Application, Features of Rule of Law
The establishment of the state led to the development of its coercive power. Unfortunately, it is this power that has been used by the state to suppress the rights of the citizens. As a result, political theorists became concerned with how to maintain a balance between the exercise of political power and the need to ensure civil liberties among the Government tiers.
The law was therefore developed to ensure that state power was not exercised to the detriment of the rights and freedom of the citizens. Indeed, law has been regarded as a primary means of subjecting government to control.
Right from the ancient times, the Greek philosophers have held that, government by law is superior to government by man. Even Roman philosophers like Gierke, had often contended that the state is under the law. That is, the law is higher than the state. They further argued that both the government and the governed should therefore all be subject to law.
It is this idea of the supremacy of the law to both the ruled and the ruler which has brought up the cliché that the law must rule (that is, rule of law).Thus, in simple terms, the rule of law means that the law must rule.
In other words, the rule of law stands for the supremacy of the ordinary law as administered by the ordinary court.
Principles of the Rule of Law
The following are the principles of the rule of law as propounded by Professor A.V. Dicey.
- Principle of Equality: It states that laws should apply equally to all citizens of a country, irrespective of their economic or political status. Nobody should be above the law. Also, access to legal facilities should be granted to all.
- Principle of Impartiality: This principle is of the view that the law should be impartial in dealing with offenders, This means that no person should be punished for any offence until otherwise established by the court. Any accused person is still regarded as a suspect by law, and should not be detained for more than twenty four hours, without producing the individual in court.
- Principle of Individual Rights: Every human being is entitled to an exercise of fundamental rights and freedom and that when these rights are violated, citizens should have the right to seek redress from the courts. Only the courts have the jurisdiction to entertain such cases.
Additional Features of the Rule of Law
- Supremacy of law: The supremacy of law over every individual is established.
- Access to legal facilities: Any accused person should be allowed access to his lawyer and other facilities that might be helpful in the preparation of his case.
- Provisions of the constitution: Every government should rule the people according to the established laws and provisions of the constitution.
- Fair hearing: Anybody arrested for any offence is still a suspect and should be given a fair hearing.
- The law should be made public: Trial of cases in courts should be made public as well.
- Right to appeal: The individual should have the right to appeal when not satisfied with the judgement of the lower court.
- Backdating of laws: Laws must not be backdated.
- Rights of individual: Rights of individuals should be enforced and guaranteed.