The doctrine of rule of law underpins all aspect of administrative law. The term is derived from the French phrase: La Principe de Legalite - Principle of Legality that means the government should be based on the principle of law and justice as opposed to arbitrary powers of the ruler. The term "Rule of Law" holds that all people are equal and they deserve equal legal rights. It claims that the law of the land takes precedence over all biases and prejudices, and if anyone breaches a law, regardless of class, caste, gender, or other factors, shall be punished. It is the reverse of autocracy and tyranny.


Ø The concept of rule of law was invented by Sir Edward Coke.

Ø Greek philosophers like Plato and Aristotle addressed the concept of rule of law.

Ø Plato believed that if law is the ruler of the government and the government is its slave, then the situation is promising, and citizens obtain all the privileges that god bestows on a state. Plato basically described rule of law as a supreme law that governs all classes of people.

Ø Aristotle also added to the concept of rule of law stating “Law should govern and those who are in power should be servant of the law”. He stressed that the concept of rule of law is grounded in the ideas of justice and fairness and no one should be above it.

Ø Edward Coke’s defined Rule of law as the government's lack of arbitrary power and the idea that no one should be punished unless they have committed a specific violation of the law which can be proven in an ordinary court of law.


Ø The term rule of law means that no man is above law and law should be applied to each and every person irrespective of position whether he is the prime minister of country or a common man.

Ø The concept of rule of law is nowhere defined in Indian Constitution, but it is often used in judgements by the Indian Judiciary.

Ø The concept requires that people should be governed by general accepted rules rather than arbitrary decisions.


Professor A. V. Dicey laid the foundation for the Rule of Law theory, and his idea on the rule of law is still the most popular. In his landmark book 'Law and the Constitution,' Professor A.V. Dicey mentioned that Dicey's theory is built on these three postulates, all of which are based on the idea that "government should be based on law, and not on men."

Following are the three postulates:-




The above postulates are described below:


The first pillar of Dicey's philosophy asserts that the law rules everyone, even those who administer it. He emphasizes that the law of the land is ultimate, and a person should only be punished for violating the law. Furthermore, he linked discretion to arbitrariness since wherever there is discretion, there is always room for arbitrariness. Thus, discretionary powers on the part of the government means insecurity for legal freedom on the part of its subject.


The second most essential pillar of Dicey's Rule of Law idea is equality before law. Everyone must be subjected to the usual law of the land, which is administered by ordinary law courts, regardless of class, caste, gender, or other factors. He contended that every official, from the Prime Minister to a government official, is equally liable for any conduct committed without legal basis as any other individual. This implies that there should not be any special court or tribunal or any other special privileges for the government officials as well as authorities. This postulate is codified in the Indian Constitution under Article 14 and in Universal Declaration of Human Rights under the Preamble and under Article 7. He also criticized the French legal system of Droit Administrative, which had separate tribunals for deciding the cases of state officials and citizens.


The third postulate emphasized the judiciary or courts of law as guarantors of rule of law. The general principles of the Indian Constitution containing various fundamental rights like right to liberty, freedom of speech and expression, exist as a result of judicial decisions determining the rights of the private persons in specific cases brought before the court. Rights can be granted to the citizens only when they are properly enforceable in the courts of law. In the absence of strong protection and enforcement mechanisms, the existence of specific rights in a written constitution is of little significance. Moreover, if citizens' fundamental rights are derived from any document, the right can be revoked at any time by amending the Constitution.


Ø Every government must be governed by the law, rather than law being governed by the government.

Ø It is useful in keeping activities within their constraints and minimizing abuse of administrative powers.

Ø It opposes government systems exerting arbitrary and uncontrolled discretion.

Ø If Dicey's perspective is equality before the law and absence of arbitrariness, there is no disagreement between rule of law and administrative law.

Ø The ground for judicial review of administrative conduct was provided by the rule of law.


The Indian constitution is the supreme law, superseding the Judiciary, the Legislature, and the Executive. These three organs act in accordance with the principles guaranteed in the constitution. The rule of law is infused into many provisions of the Indian constitution mentioned below:

• The terms justice, liberty, and equality appear in the Preamble to our Constitution, denoting a just and fair system where there is no disparity between the masses regardless of socio-economic standing.

• India's Rule of Law doctrine is recognized by Article 13(1) of the Indian Constitution. It states that any law enacted by legislatures must be in accordance with the Constitution, or it will be declared invalid.

• Article 14 defines the principle of equality and equal protection of law as described in Dicey’s theory of rule of law. All persons irrespective of caste, gender, race, religion should be treated equally in compliance with law without any arbitrariness.

• Protective discrimination added in Articles 15and 16 further fortify the essence of equality.

• Article 21 is deterrent against any arbitrary action by saying that no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty unless in conformity with legal procedure. This article follows Dicey's first principle, "Supremacy of Law”.

• The Indian Constitution provides remedies to safeguard fundamental rights in the form of writs such as Habeas Corpus, Mandamus, Quo Warranto, Certiorari and Prohibition to ensure its fair enforcement in India.

• The Supreme Court also has the power of judicial review to prohibit any statute from being violated in order to protect the rule of law.


There are numerous cases in which the concept of the rule of law has been debated, but A D M Jabalpur v. Shivkant Shukla, popularly known as the Habeas Corpus case is one of the prominent and landmark case among others.


AIR 1976 SC 1207

1976 SCR 172


• Many political opponents and critics were detained under the Maintenance of Internal Security (MISA) Act after the declaration of emergency in 1975. They were also not told the reasons for their arrest.

• The accused approached the High Courts to challenge their arrests, using Article 226 of the Indian Constitution.

• The central government got concerned when the High Courts issued judgment in favour of the petitioners and therefore, approached the Supreme Court.


 Whether Indian Law has any rule of law aside from Article 21, as the fundamental rights guaranteed by Articles 14, 21, and 22 are suspended during the emergency.


• A five-judge bench rendered the decision on the matter. For the question of law, the majority of the bench answered no.

• However, Justice H.R. Khanna had a different viewpoint, stating that "the state has no right to deprive a person of his life and liberty without the authority of law, even in the absence of Article 21 in the Constitution. The boundary between a lawless society and one regulated by rules would lose its meaning if such sanctity of life and liberty were not retained. All civilized societies today take the rule of law as a norm."


• To summarize, rule of law is the best tool to achieve Supremacy of law.

• Dicey's 'Rule of Law' doctrine is crucial to the constitutions of most democratic countries.

• The Indian Constitution has given sufficient procedures to ensure that the Rule of Law is observed in all areas, including the preservation of people's rights, equal treatment before the law, and protection against excessive arbitrariness.

The Courts have sought to strengthen these procedures through their judgements, ensuring that all citizens receive prompt justice.

This article is written by Nirali Chheda of Kishinchand Chellaram Law College.

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