Exam Focus: the rule of law, principles and limitations


Exam focus – Keypoint on the rule of law, principles, limitations and factors that can ensure or aid the successful operation of the rule of law.



The rule of law: This refers to the absolute supremacy or predominance of law over everybody both the rulers and the ruled and all the decisions taken in a country.  Professor A.V Dicey developed and popularized the phrase “RULE OF LAW.

The main principle and features of the rule of law

  • Equality Before The Law: In Dicey’s view, all men are equal before the law of the land; therefore no one is above the law and the law is no respecter of person.
  • Impartiality: That no one should be made to suffer any penalty or loss of personal liberty or punished in any way unless found guilty of breaking any law of the land which must, however, be established in the ordinary court.
  • The Right of The Individual: This principle state that citizens of a country should enjoy certain basic inalienable right and liberties under the law, violation of which they have the right to seek redress in the law court.
  • Absolute supremacy or predominance of law over everybody.
  • There should be enough laws to guide the actions of government and citizens so that law and order will be maintained.
  • Certain agencies must be set up to take care of breakdown of laws and order, violation and enforcement of laws.
  • The government should rule in accordance with the laws of the land arbitrarily.
  • The law should be made public to be known to everybody.
  • Laws should not be made to have retrospective effects or be backdated.
  • There should be no government influence or censorship on the press.
  • There must be legal limitations to the actions of the government.
  • Those found guilty of offences by the court of law should be given the opportunity to appeal against the judgment in higher court.
  • Punishment meant for an offender must agree with the offence he committed as laid down by the law.

Factors that limit the application of the rule of law or why the rule of law cannot operate successfully

  1. State of emergency
  2. The type of government
  3. Partial judiciary
  4. Diplomatic immunity
  5. Obnoxious laws
  6. Police brutality
  7. Integrity of judges
  8. Economic position
  9. Age limit
  10. Strikes
  11. A special or administrative tribunal
  12. Poverty
  13. Grants of discretional powers
  14. Parliamentary immunity
  15. Someone position as head of state, etc.
  16. Customs and traditions
  17. Security of the state.
  18. Delegated legislation
  19. Insanity.

Factors that can ensure or aid the successful operation of the rule of law

  1. Public trials of the accused persons; not secret trials.
  2. The press must be free not gagged.
  3. A democratic political system in a country.
  4. The judiciary must be independent and impartial.
  5. Citizens should be granted the right to appeal against any judgment they feel like.
  6. There should be no delayed justice which will lead to denied justice.
  7. Accused persons should have access to lawyers to defend them.
  8. Adequate information should be made available about the existence of different laws, especially newly enacted ones.
  9. To avoid tyranny, the principles of separation of powers and check and balances should be adopted in government.
  10. A sovereign parliament will also aid successfully operation of the rule of law.
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