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What is Rule of Law?

Last Updated : 20 Jul, 2022
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To understand the basic concepts of the Rule of law we have to understand what is ‘law‘ and ‘law in force’.

Meaning of law:

The word ‘law‘ has been defined in Article13(3)(a) and ‘law in force’ defined in Article 13(3)(b). It does not expressly include a law enacted by the legislature/ Parliament, for such enactment is obviously the law.

The definition of the law comprises of following things or we could say that law includes :

The ordinance, as it is made by passing the bill in Parliament or legislatures and it is the exercise of executive’s legislative power. In Dwarka Nath v. State(1959) Supreme Court held that if any administrative order is made by executive officers and that is subject to the law, then that order will come under the ambit of the word ‘law’.

Order, bye-laws, rules, regulations & notifications having the same status as of law, because they plunge into the classification of subordinate delegated legislation and are not passed by the legislature or parliament.

Custom or usage having the force of law in the territory of India as they are not enacted law at all. In Gazula Dasaratha Rama Rao v. State of Andhra Pradesh(1961) Supreme Court observed that the law is not only The acts of parliament or legislature but it also includes customs and its practices that has the force of law. But such customs can not be violative of Fundamental Rights.

Ordinance by the President & the governors, a government notification, any sub-rule of a municipality body, sports rule(customs), etc are examples of law.

Law in force:

The term ‘law in force’ had not been defined in the Indian Constitution. The law in force means a law made by a Legislature or competent authority in India before the commencement of this Constitution and not previously repealed by any such authority.  Supreme Court in Edward Mills Co. Ltd. vs Ajmer(1995) held that law in force means the same thing as existing law which has been defined under article 372.

By the evolution of time, Another question arises whether the amendment of the Constitution is law or not!

The Supreme Court in Shankari Prasad’s case held that law means rules and regulations made in the exercise of ordinary legislative power and not in the exercise of constituent power. But in Golaknath’s case the Supreme court held that law included statutory as well as constitutional law. Later the 24th amendment was challenged in the Keshvananda Bharti case and the present position by judgement is that the word ‘law’ does not include a constitutional amendment.

Rule of law:

Simply rule of law, means that no man is supreme than law i.e. Law is supreme and also that every person irrespective of their position or power is subordinate to the laws and everyone comes under the jurisdiction of the courts in India. Even executive and administrative and judiciary must be run under the provision of law provided under the Indian constitution. India has taken this concept from England.  

The rule of law means that law should not be subject to any person or any government because that will collapse the law and state but if a law is supreme of the government and others, then only the state and others can be progressive and the growth of the state and others will be in the right direction. However, in an ideal state law should govern everyone along with State.

The object of rule of law is that no person should be treated unequally or harshly. Rule of law means that whether a person is a man or any authority or anyone comes under the definition of person should not be governed by any person or any ruler but everyone should be governed by law.  Rule of law means law of land which means the law which prevails on everything related to Indian territory.

Dicey’s Rule Of Law

Professor Dicey states theory for achieving Rule of law, three principles must be followed that are:

  • Supremacy Of law means the government or state must not be given wide powers so that they cannot make the use of their power arbitrarily but they must be governed according to the laws. And it is the law that should dominate over any other power to avoid any arbitrariness and that is possible only when the Law is supreme.
  • Equality before law means there must be equality between all classes of people irrespective of their position i.e. No man is more supreme than the law and every person should be treated equally in the eyes of law.
  • The predominance of legal spirit here legal spirit means spirit of justice. This means law should be made or enacted according to justice and not justice should be according to law. This principle is followed by the Indian Judiciary to strengthen the Rule of Law in the Indian Constitution. Rule of law states that every conduct of the administration or any authority should be done according to the provisions of law established in India.

Role of ‘Rule of Law’ in India 

Rule of Law has played a significant role in developing democracy and the supremacy of law in India. Our Constitution framers had framed the Rule of law from England. The Indian Constitution is supreme and no person is more supreme than the Indian Constitution. Basically, Part-3 of the Indian Constitution enshrined the Rule of law as the fundamental rights.

Equality of law under article 14 is one of the considerations of the Dicey rule. Also, Article 22 provides the Right of liberty which means etc are the rights that are governed and implemented by the theory of Rule of law.

In case of violation of Part-3, the person can move to the Supreme Court or High Court respectively under Articles 32 and Articles 226 of the Indian Constitution. The Constitution of India supports the Rule of law with the principles of law i.e. justice, equality, and liberty.  So, it means any law made by the parliament must be in accordance with the Constitution. So, the law in the Constitution is supreme.

Judiciary’s role in the Rule of law

One of the famous cases is known as the “Habeas Corpus case”.  The question was raised before the court was whether there was any rule of law in India except provided by Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. The Supreme Court held that no person had any locus to maintain a writ of Habeas Corpus during the period of Emergency. The right to life & liberty has been suspended by Presidential order so it can’t be challenged in the Courts as a part of Rule of law. Later, the 44th constitution amendment laid down that Enforcement of Articles 20 & 21 can not be suspended in any situation.

In the Kesavananda Bharati  case Supreme Court held that the Rule of law is one of the most important parts for constituting the doctrine of basic structure.


It can be said that the Rule of Law is key to achieve the Supremacy of law. Court also played some roles to achieve this goal by linking the Rule of law with the Fundamental Rights of people. It is the court that incurve the government not only to work under the supremacy of law but also repose the government to work in a manner that the fundamental rights and other rights of people may not be prejudiced.

Writs, Public Interest Litigation(PIL), etc are the best example to show that in Indian society, the rule of law has achieved the new direction to ensure the safety of the rights of people of the nation by the Rule of Law. Thus, It is the law that is supreme.

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