The rule of law is the political philosophy that all citizens and institutions within a country, state, or community are accountable to the same laws, including lawmakers and leaders. The rule of law is defined in the ''Encyclopedia Britannica'' as "the mechanism, process, institution, practice, or norm that supports the equality of all citizens before the law, secures a nonarbitrary form of government, and more generally prevents the arbitrary use of power." The term ''rule of law'' is closely related to constitutionalism as well as ''
Rechtsstaat ''Rechtsstaat'' (lit. "state of law"; "legal state") is a doctrine in continental European legal thinking, originating in Dutch and German jurisprudence. It can be translated into English as "rule of law", alternatively "legal state", state of ...
'' and refers to a political situation, not to any specific legal rule. Use of the phrase can be traced to 16th-century Britain. In the following century, the Scottish theologian Samuel Rutherford employed it in arguing against the divine right of kings. John Locke wrote that freedom in society means being subject only to laws made by a legislature that apply to everyone, with a person being otherwise free from both governmental and private restrictions upon liberty. "The rule of law" was further popularized in the 19th century by British jurist A. V. Dicey. However, the principle, if not the phrase itself, was recognized by ancient thinkers.
Aristotle Aristotle (; grc-gre, Ἀριστοτέλης ''Aristotélēs'', ; 384–322 BC) was a Greek philosopher and polymath during the Classical period in Ancient Greece. Taught by Plato, he was the founder of the Peripatetic school of ...
wrote: "It is more proper that law should govern than any one of the citizens: upon the same principle, if it is advantageous to place the supreme power in some particular persons, they should be appointed to be only guardians, and the servants of the laws." The rule of law implies that every person is subject to the law, including persons who are lawmakers, law enforcement officials, and judges. In this sense, it stands in contrast to tyranny or
oligarchy Oligarchy (; ) is a conceptual form of power structure in which power rests with a small number of people. These people may or may not be distinguished by one or several characteristics, such as nobility, fame, wealth, education, or corporate, ...
, where the rulers are held above the law.


Early history (9th - 15th century)

Alfred the Great Alfred the Great (alt. Ælfred 848/849 – 26 October 899) was King of the West Saxons from 871 to 886, and King of the Anglo-Saxons from 886 until his death in 899. He was the youngest son of King Æthelwulf and his first wife Osburh, who ...
, Anglo-Saxon king in the 9th century, reformed the law of his kingdom and assembled a law code (the
Doom Book The Doom Book, ''Dōmbōc'', Code of Alfred or Legal Code of Ælfred the Great was the code of laws ("dooms" being laws or judgments) compiled by Alfred the Great ( 893 AD). Alfred codified three prior Saxon codes – those of Æthelb ...
) which he grounded on biblical commandments. He held that the same law had to be applied to all persons, whether rich or poor, friends or enemies. This was likely inspired by Leviticus 19:15: "You shall do no iniquity in judgment. You shall not favor the wretched and you shall not defer to the rich. In righteousness you are to judge your fellow." In 1215, Archbishop Stephen Langton gathered the Barons in England and forced King John and future sovereigns and magistrates back under the rule of law, preserving ancient liberties by Magna Carta in return for exacting taxes. The influence of the Magna Carta ebbs and wanes across centuries. The weakening of royal power it demonstrated was based more upon the instability presented by contested claims than thoughtful adherence to constitutional principles. Until 1534, the Church excommunicated people for violations, but after a time the Magna Carta was simply replaced by other statutes considered binding upon the king to act according to "process of the law". Magna Carta's influence is considered greatly diminished by the reign of Henry VI, after the
Wars of the Roses The Wars of the Roses (1455–1487), known at the time and for more than a century after as the Civil Wars, were a series of civil wars fought over control of the English throne in the mid-to-late fifteenth century. These wars were fought bet ...
. The ideas contained in the Magna Carta are widely considered to have influenced the United States Constitution. In 1481, during the reign of Ferdinand II of Aragon, the '' Constitució de l'Observança'' was approved by the General Court of Catalonia, establishing the submission of royal power (included its officers) to the laws of the Principality of Catalonia. The first known use of this English phrase occurred around 1500. Another early example of the phrase "rule of law" is found in a petition to James I of England in 1610, from the House of Commons:
Amongst many other points of happiness and freedom which your majesty's subjects of this kingdom have enjoyed under your royal progenitors, kings and queens of this realm, there is none which they have accounted more dear and precious than this, to be guided and governed by the certain ''rule of the law'' which giveth both to the head and members that which of right belongeth to them, and not by any uncertain or arbitrary form of government ...

Modern period (1500 CE – present)

In 1607, English Chief Justice
Sir Edward Coke ''Sir'' is a formal honorific address in English for men, derived from Sire in the High Middle Ages. Both are derived from the old French "Sieur" (Lord), brought to England by the French-speaking Normans, and which now exist in French only a ...
said in the '' Case of Prohibitions'' (according to his own report) "that the law was the golden met-wand and measure to try the causes of the subjects; and which protected His Majesty in safety and peace: with which the King was greatly offended, and said, that then he should be under the law, which was treason to affirm, as he said; to which I said, that Bracton saith, ''quod Rex non debet esse sub homine, sed sub Deo et lege'' (That the King ought not to be under any man but under God and the law.)." Among the first modern authors to use the term and give the principle theoretical foundations was Samuel Rutherford in '' Lex, Rex'' (1644).Rutherford, Samuel. ''Lex, rex: the law and the prince, a dispute for the just prerogative of king and people, containing the reasons and causes of the defensive wars of the kingdom of Scotland, and of their expedition for the ayd and help of their brethren of England''
p. 237
(1644): "The prince remaineth, even being a prince, a social creature, a man, as well as a king; one who must buy, sell, promise, contract, dispose: ergo, he is not regula regulans, but under rule of law ..."
The title, Latin for "the law is king", subverts the traditional formulation ''rex lex'' ("the king is law"). James Harrington wrote in ''Oceana'' (1656), drawing principally on Aristotle's ''Politics'', that among forms of government an “Empire of Laws, and not of Men” was preferable to an “Empire of Men, and not of Laws”. John Locke also discussed this issue in his '' Second Treatise of Government'' (1690):
The natural liberty of man is to be free from any superior power on earth, and not to be under the will or legislative authority of man, but to have only the law of nature for his rule. The liberty of man, in society, is to be under no other legislative power, but that established, by consent, in the commonwealth; nor under the dominion of any will, or restraint of any law, but what that legislative shall enact, according to the trust put in it. Freedom then is not what Sir Robert Filmer tells us, Observations, A. 55. a liberty for every one to do what he lists, to live as he pleases, and not to be tied by any laws: but freedom of men under government is, to have a standing rule to live by, common to every one of that society, and made by the legislative power erected in it; a liberty to follow my own will in all things, where the rule prescribes not; and not to be subject to the inconstant, uncertain, unknown, arbitrary will of another man: as freedom of nature is, to be under no other restraint but the law of nature.
The principle was also discussed by
Montesquieu Charles Louis de Secondat, Baron de La Brède et de Montesquieu (; ; 18 January 168910 February 1755), generally referred to as simply Montesquieu, was a French judge, man of letters, historian, and political philosopher. He is the princip ...
in '' The Spirit of Law'' (1748).Tamanaha, Brian.
On the Rule of Law
', p. 47 (Cambridge University Press, 2004).
The phrase "rule of law" appears in
Samuel Johnson Samuel Johnson (18 September 1709  – 13 December 1784), often called Dr Johnson, was an English writer who made lasting contributions as a poet, playwright, essayist, moralist, critic, biographer, editor and lexicographer. The '' Oxford ...
's ''Dictionary'' (1755). In 1776, the notion that no one is above the law was popular during the founding of the United States. For example, Thomas Paine wrote in his pamphlet '' Common Sense'' that "in America, ''the law is king''. For as in absolute governments the King is law, so in free countries the law ''ought'' to be king; and there ought to be no other." In 1780, John Adams enshrined this principle in Article VI of the Declaration of Rights in the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts:
No man, nor corporation, or association of men, have any other title to obtain advantages, or particular and exclusive privileges, distinct from those of the community, than what arises from the consideration of services rendered to the public; and this title being in nature neither hereditary, nor transmissible to children, or descendants, or relations by blood, the idea of a man born a magistrate, lawgiver, or judge, is absurd and unnatural.
The influence of Britain, France and the United States contributed to spreading the principle of the rule of law to other countries around the world.

Philosophical influences

Although credit for popularizing the expression "the rule of law" in modern times is usually given to A. V. Dicey, development of the legal concept can be traced through history to many ancient civilizations, including ancient Greece, Mesopotamia, India, and Rome. The idea of Rule of Law is often regarded as a modern iteration of the ideas of ancient Greek philosophers who argued that the best form of government was rule by the best men. Plato advocated a benevolent monarchy ruled by an idealized
philosopher king The philosopher king is a hypothetical ruler in whom political skill is combined with philosophical knowledge. The concept of a city-state ruled by philosophers is first explored in Plato's '' Republic'', written around 375 BC. Plato argued that ...
, who was above the law.David Clarke,
The many meanings of the rule of law
" in Kanishka Jayasuriya, ed., ''Law, Capitalism and Power in Asia'' (New York: Routledge, 1998).
Plato nevertheless hoped that the best men would be good at respecting established laws, explaining that "Where the law is subject to some other authority and has none of its own, the collapse of the state, in my view, is not far off; but if law is the master of the government and the government is its slave, then the situation is full of promise and men enjoy all the blessings that the gods shower on a state." More than Plato attempted to do,
Aristotle Aristotle (; grc-gre, Ἀριστοτέλης ''Aristotélēs'', ; 384–322 BC) was a Greek philosopher and polymath during the Classical period in Ancient Greece. Taught by Plato, he was the founder of the Peripatetic school of ...
flatly opposed letting the highest officials wield power beyond guarding and serving the laws. In other words, Aristotle advocated the rule of law:
It is more proper that law should govern than any one of the citizens: upon the same principle, if it is advantageous to place the supreme power in some particular persons, they should be appointed to be only guardians, and the servants of the laws.Aristotle, '' Politics'' 3.16
The Roman statesman Cicero is often cited as saying, roughly: "We are all servants of the laws in order to be free." During the Roman Republic, controversial magistrates might be put on trial when their terms of office expired. Under the Roman Empire, the sovereign was personally immune (''legibus solutus''), but those with grievances could sue the treasury.Wormuth, Francis. ''The Origins of Modern Constitutionalism'', p. 28 (1949). In China, members of the school of legalism during the 3rd century BC argued for using law as a tool of governance, but they promoted "rule ''by'' law" as opposed to "rule ''of'' law," meaning that they placed the aristocrats and emperor above the law. In contrast, the Huang–Lao school of
Daoism Taoism (, ) or Daoism () refers to either a school of philosophical thought (道家; ''daojia'') or to a religion (道教; ''daojiao''), both of which share ideas and concepts of Chinese origin and emphasize living in harmony with the '' T ...
rejected legal positivism in favor of a
natural law Natural law ( la, ius naturale, ''lex naturalis'') is a system of law based on a close observation of human nature, and based on values intrinsic to human nature that can be deduced and applied independently of positive law (the express enacted ...
that even the ruler would be subject to.

Meaning and categorization of interpretations

The ''Oxford English Dictionary'' has defined ''rule of law'' this way:''Oxford English Dictionary'' online (accessed 13 September 2018; spelling Americanized). The phrase "the rule of law" is also sometimes used in other senses. ''See'' Garner, Bryan A. (Editor in Chief). ''Black's Law Dictionary'', 9th Edition, p. 1448. (Thomson Reuters, 2009). . Black's provides five definitions of "rule of law": the lead definition is "A substantive legal principle"; the second is the "supremacy of regular as opposed to arbitrary power".
The authority and influence of law in society, esp. when viewed as a constraint on individual and institutional behaviour; (hence) the principle whereby all members of a society (including those in government) are considered equally subject to publicly disclosed legal codes and processes.
Rule of law implies that every citizen is subject to the law. It stands in contrast to the idea that the ruler is above the law, for example by divine right. Despite wide use by politicians, judges and academics, the rule of law has been described as "an exceedingly elusive notion". Among modern legal theorists, one finds that at least two principal conceptions of the rule of law can be identified: a formalist or "thin" definition, and a substantive or " thick" definition; one occasionally encounters a third "functional" conception.Tamanaha, Brian
“The Rule of Law for Everyone?”
''Current Legal Problems'', vol. 55, via
SSRN The Social Science Research Network (SSRN) is a repository for preprints devoted to the rapid dissemination of scholarly research in the social sciences, humanities, life sciences, and health sciences, among others. Elsevier bought SSRN fro ...
Formalist definitions of the rule of law do not make a judgment about the "justness" of law itself, but define specific procedural attributes that a legal framework must have in order to be in compliance with the rule of law. Substantive conceptions of the rule of law go beyond this and include certain substantive rights that are said to be based on, or derived from, the rule of law. Most legal theorists believe that the rule of law has purely formal characteristics. For instance, such theorists claim that law requires generality (general rules that apply to classes of persons and behaviors as opposed to individuals), publicity (no secret laws), prospective application (little or no retroactive laws), consistency (no contradictory laws), equality (applied equally throughout all society), and certainty (certainty of application for a given situation), but formalists contend that there are no requirements with regard to the content of the law. Others, including a few legal theorists, believe that the rule of law necessarily entails protection of individual rights. Within legal theory, these two approaches to the rule of law are seen as the two basic alternatives, respectively labelled the formal and substantive approaches. Still, there are other views as well. Some believe that democracy is part of the rule of law. The "formal" interpretation is more widespread than the "substantive" interpretation. Formalists hold that the law must be prospective, well-known, and have characteristics of generality, equality, and certainty. Other than that, the formal view contains no requirements as to the content of the law. This formal approach allows laws that protect democracy and individual rights, but recognizes the existence of "rule of law" in countries that do not necessarily have such laws protecting democracy or individual rights. The best known arguments for the formal interpretation have been made by A.V Dicey, F.A.Hayek, Joseph Raz, and Joseph Unger. The substantive interpretation preferred by Dworkin, Laws, and Allan, holds that the rule of law intrinsically protects some or all individual rights. The functional interpretation of the term "rule of law", consistent with the traditional English meaning, contrasts the "rule of law" with the " rule of man".Stephenson, Matthew
"Rule of Law as a Goal of Development Policy"
World Bank Research (2008).
According to the functional view, a society in which government officers have a great deal of discretion has a low degree of "rule of law", whereas a society in which government officers have little discretion has a high degree of "rule of law". Upholding the rule of law can sometimes require the punishment of those who commit offenses that are justifiable under
natural law Natural law ( la, ius naturale, ''lex naturalis'') is a system of law based on a close observation of human nature, and based on values intrinsic to human nature that can be deduced and applied independently of positive law (the express enacted ...
but not statutory law. The rule of law is thus somewhat at odds with flexibility, even when flexibility may be preferable. The ancient concept of rule ''of'' law can be distinguished from rule ''by'' law, according to political science professor Li Shuguang: "The difference ... is that, under the rule of law, the law is preeminent and can serve as a check against the abuse of power. Under rule by law, the law is a mere tool for a government, that suppresses in a legalistic fashion."

Status in various jurisdictions

The rule of law has been considered one of the key dimensions that determine the quality and
good governance Good governance is the process of measuring how public institutions conduct public affairs and manage public resources and guarantee the realization of human rights in a manner essentially free of abuse and corruption and with due regard for th ...
of a country.Kaufman, Daniel et al
"Governance Matters VI: Governance Indicators for 1996–2006, World Bank Policy Research Working Paper No. 4280"
(July 2007).
Research, like the Worldwide Governance Indicators, defines the rule of law as: "the extent to which agents have confidence and abide by the rules of society, and in particular the quality of contract enforcement, the police and the courts, as well as the likelihood of crime or violence." Based on this definition the Worldwide Governance Indicators project has developed aggregate measurements for the rule of law in more than 200 countries, as seen in the map at right.


The preamble of the rule of law European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms says "the governments of European countries which are like-minded and have a common heritage of political traditions, ideals, freedom and the rule of law". In France and Germany the concepts of rule of law (''Etat de droit'' and ''Rechtsstaat'' respectively) are analogous to the principles of constitutional supremacy and protection of fundamental rights from public authorities (see public law), particularly the legislature. France was one of the early pioneers of the ideas of the rule of law. The German interpretation is more "rigid" but similar to that of France and the United Kingdom. Finland's constitution explicitly requires rule of law by stipulating that "the exercise of public powers shall be based on an Act. In all public activity, the law shall be strictly observed."

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom the rule of law is a long-standing principle of the way the country is governed, dating from Magna Carta in 1215 and the Bill of Rights 1689. In the 19th century classic work ''Introduction to the Study of the Law of the Constitution'' (1885), A. V. Dicey, a constitutional scholar and lawyer, wrote of the twin pillars of the British constitution: the rule of law and
parliamentary sovereignty Parliamentary sovereignty, also called parliamentary supremacy or legislative supremacy, is a concept in the constitutional law of some parliamentary democracies. It holds that the legislative body has absolute sovereignty and is supreme over al ...


United States

All government officers of the United States, including the
President President most commonly refers to: * President (corporate title) *President (education), a leader of a college or university * President (government title) President may also refer to: Automobiles * Nissan President, a 1966–2010 Japanese f ...
, the Justices of the Supreme Court, state judges and legislators, and all members of Congress, pledge first and foremost to uphold the Constitution. These oaths affirm that the rule of law is superior to the rule of any human leader. At the same time, the federal government has considerable discretion: the legislative branch is free to decide what statutes it will write, as long as it stays within its
enumerated powers The enumerated powers (also called expressed powers, explicit powers or delegated powers) of the United States Congress are the powers granted to the federal government of the United States by the United States Constitution. Most of these powers ...
and respects the constitutionally protected rights of individuals. Likewise, the judicial branch has a degree of judicial discretion, and the executive branch also has various discretionary powers including prosecutorial discretion. Per repeated opinions released by the Office of Legal Counsel at the Department of Justice, a sitting president cannot be indicted or prosecuted. Scholars continue to debate whether the U.S. Constitution adopted a particular interpretation of the "rule of law", and if so, which one. For example, John Harrison asserts that the word "law" in the Constitution is simply defined as that which is legally binding, rather than being "defined by formal or substantive criteria", and therefore judges do not have discretion to decide that laws fail to satisfy such unwritten and vague criteria. Law Professor Frederick Mark Gedicks disagrees, writing that Cicero, Augustine,
Thomas Aquinas Thomas Aquinas, OP (; it, Tommaso d'Aquino, lit=Thomas of Aquino; 1225 – 7 March 1274) was an Italian Dominican friar and priest who was an influential philosopher, theologian and jurist in the tradition of scholasticism; he is known ...
, and the framers of the U.S. Constitution believed that an unjust law was not really a law at all. Some modern scholars contend that the rule of law has been corroded during the past century by the instrumental view of law promoted by legal realists such as Oliver Wendell Holmes and Roscoe Pound. For example, Brian Tamanaha asserts: "The rule of law is a centuries-old ideal, but the notion that law is a means to an end became entrenched only in the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries." Others argue that the rule of law has survived but was transformed to allow for the exercise of discretion by administrators. For much of American history, the dominant notion of the rule of law, in this setting, has been some version of A. V. Dicey's: "no man is punishable or can be lawfully 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." That is, individuals should be able to challenge an administrative order by bringing suit in a court of general jurisdiction. As the dockets of worker compensation commissions, public utility commissions and other agencies burgeoned, it soon became apparent that letting judges decide for themselves all the facts in a dispute (such as the extent of an injury in a worker's compensation case) would overwhelm the courts and destroy the advantages of specialization that led to the creation of administrative agencies in the first place. Even Charles Evans Hughes, a Chief Justice of the United States, believed "you must have administration, and you must have administration by administrative officers." By 1941, a compromise had emerged. If administrators adopted procedures that more or less tracked "the ordinary legal manner" of the courts, further review of the facts by "the ordinary Courts of the land" was unnecessary. That is, if you had your "day in commission", the rule of law did not require a further "day in court". Thus Dicey's rule of law was recast into a purely procedural form. James Wilson said during the
Philadelphia Convention The Constitutional Convention took place in Philadelphia from May 25 to September 17, 1787. Although the convention was intended to revise the league of states and first system of government under the Articles of Confederation, the intention f ...
in 1787 that, "Laws may be unjust, may be unwise, may be dangerous, may be destructive; and yet not be so unconstitutional as to justify the Judges in refusing to give them effect." George Mason agreed that judges "could declare an unconstitutional law void. But with regard to every law, however unjust, oppressive or pernicious, which did not come plainly under this description, they would be under the necessity as judges to give it a free course." Chief Justice
John Marshall John Marshall (September 24, 1755July 6, 1835) was an American politician and lawyer who served as the fourth Chief Justice of the United States from 1801 until his death in 1835. He remains the longest-serving chief justice and fourth-longes ...
(joined by Justice Joseph Story) took a similar position in 1827: "When its existence as law is denied, that existence cannot be proved by showing what are the qualities of a law."

United States and definition and goal of rule of law

Various and countless way to define rule of law are known in the United States and might depend on one organization's goal including in territories with security risk:Rule of law, handbook, A Practitioner's Guide for Judge Advocates, 2010, The Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center and School, U.S. Army Center for Law and Military Operations, Charlottesville, Virginia 22903

US Army doctrine and US Government inter-agency agreement

US Army doctrine and U.S. Government (USG) inter-agency agreement might see rule of law as a principle of governance


In Canada, administrative law makes the rule of law is an underlying constitutional principle requiring government to be conducted according to law and making all public officers answerable for their acts in the ordinary courts.


East Asian cultures are influenced by two schools of thought, Confucianism, which advocated good governance as rule by leaders who are benevolent and virtuous, and Legalism, which advocated strict adherence to law. The influence of one school of thought over the other has varied throughout the centuries. One study indicates that throughout East Asia, only South Korea, Singapore, Japan, Taiwan and Hong Kong have societies that are robustly committed to a law-bound state. According to Awzar Thi, a member of the
Asian Human Rights Commission The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is an independent, non-governmental body that promotes human rights in Asia and mobilizes Asian and international public opinion to obtain relief and redress for the victims of human rights violations. ...
, the rule of law in Cambodia, and most of Asia is weak or nonexistent:
Apart from a number of states and territories, across the continent there is a huge gulf between the rule of law rhetoric and reality. In Thailand, the police force is favor over the rich and corrupted. In Cambodia, judges are proxies for the ruling political party ... That a judge may harbor political prejudice or apply the law unevenly are the smallest worries for an ordinary criminal defendant in Asia. More likely ones are: Will the police fabricate the evidence? Will the prosecutor bother to show up? Will the judge fall asleep? Will I be poisoned in prison? Will my case be completed within a decade?
In countries such as China and Vietnam, the transition to a market economy has been a major factor in a move toward the rule of law, because the rule of law is important to foreign investors and to economic development. It remains unclear whether the rule of law in countries like China and Vietnam will be limited to commercial matters or will spill into other areas as well, and if so whether that spillover will enhance prospects for related values such as democracy and human rights. The rule of law in China has been widely discussed and debated by both legal scholars and politicians in China. In Thailand, a kingdom that has had a constitution since the initial attempt to overthrow the absolute monarchy system in 1932, the rule of law has been more of a principle than actual practice. Ancient prejudices and political bias have been present in the three branches of government with each of their foundings, and justice has been processed formally according to the law but in fact more closely aligned with royalist principles that are still advocated in the 21st century. In November 2013, Thailand faced still further threats to the rule of law when the executive branch rejected a supreme court decision over how to select senators. In India, the longest constitutional text in the history of the world has governed that country since 1950. The
Constitution of India The Constitution of India ( IAST: ) is the supreme law of India. The document lays down the framework that demarcates fundamental political code, structure, procedures, powers, and duties of government institutions and sets out fundamental ...
is intended to limit the opportunity for governmental discretion and the judiciary uses
judicial review Judicial review is a process under which executive, legislative and administrative actions are subject to review by the judiciary. A court with authority for judicial review may invalidate laws, acts and governmental actions that are incomp ...
to uphold the Constitution, especially the
Fundamental Rights Fundamental rights are a group of rights that have been recognized by a high degree of protection from encroachment. These rights are specifically identified in a constitution, or have been found under due process of law. The United Nations' Sustai ...
. Although some people have criticized the Indian judiciary for its judicial activism, others believe such actions are needed to safeguard the rule of law based on the Constitution as well as to preserve judicial independence, an important part of the
basic structure doctrine The basic structure doctrine is a common law legal doctrine that the constitution of a sovereign state has certain characteristics that cannot be erased by its legislature. The doctrine is recognised in India, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Pakistan, an ...
. Japan had centuries of tradition prior to
World War II World War II or the Second World War, often abbreviated as WWII or WW2, was a world war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. It involved the vast majority of the world's countries—including all of the great powers—forming two opposing ...
, during which there were laws, but they did not provide a central organizing principle for society, and they did not constrain the powers of government (Boadi, 2001). As the 21st century began, the percentage of people who were lawyers and judges in Japan remained very low relative to western Europe and the United States, and legislation in Japan tended to be terse and general, leaving much discretion in the hands of bureaucrats.


Various organizations are involved in promoting the rule of law.

EU Commission

The rule of law is enshrined in Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union as one of the common values for all Member States. Under the rule of law, all public powers always act within the constraints set out by law, in accordance with the values of democracy and fundamental rights, and under the control of independent and impartial courts. The rule of law includes principles such as legality, implying a transparent, accountable, democratic and pluralistic process for enacting laws; legal certainty; prohibiting the arbitrary exercise of executive power; effective judicial protection by independent and impartial courts, effective judicial review including respect for fundamental rights; separation of powers; and equality before the law. These principles have been recognised by the European Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights. In addition, the Council of Europe has developed standards and issued opinions and recommendations which provide well-established guidance to promote and uphold the rule of law.

The Council of Europe

The Statute of the Council of Europe characterizes the rule of law as one of the core principles which the establishment of the organization based on. The paragraph 3 of the preamble of the Statute of the Council of Europe states: "Reaffirming their devotion to the spiritual and moral values which are the common heritage of their peoples and the true source of individual freedom, political liberty and the rule of law, principles which form the basis of all genuine democracy." The Statute lays the compliance with the rule of law principles as a condition for the European states to be a full member of the organization.

International Commission of Jurists

In 1959, an event took place in
New Delhi New Delhi (, , ''Naī Dillī'') is the capital of India and a part of the National Capital Territory of Delhi (NCT). New Delhi is the seat of all three branches of the government of India, hosting the Rashtrapati Bhavan, Parliament Ho ...
and speaking as the
International Commission of Jurists The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) is an international human rights non-governmental organization. It is a standing group of 60 eminent jurists—including senior judges, attorneys and academics—who work to develop national and int ...
, made a declaration as to the fundamental principle of the rule of law. The event consisted of over 185 judges, lawyers, and law professors from 53 countries. This later became known as the Declaration of Delhi. During the declaration they declared what the rule of law implied. They included certain rights and freedoms, an independent judiciary and social, economic and cultural conditions conducive to human dignity. The one aspect not included in The Declaration of Delhi, was for rule of law requiring legislative power to be subject to
judicial review Judicial review is a process under which executive, legislative and administrative actions are subject to review by the judiciary. A court with authority for judicial review may invalidate laws, acts and governmental actions that are incomp ...

United Nations

Secretary-General of the United Nations The secretary-general of the United Nations (UNSG or SG) is the chief administrative officer of the United Nations and head of the United Nations Secretariat, one of the six principal organs of the United Nations. The role of the secretary-g ...
defines the rule of law as:
a principle of governance in which all persons, institutions and entities, public and private, including the State itself, are accountable to laws that are publicly promulgated, equally enforced and independently adjudicated, and which are consistent with international human rights norms and standards. It requires, as well, measures to ensure adherence to the principles of supremacy of law, equality before the law, accountability to the law, fairness in the application of the law, separation of powers, participation in decision-making, legal certainty, avoidance of arbitrariness and procedural and legal transparency.
The General Assembly has considered rule of law an agenda item since 1992, with renewed interest since 2006 and has adopted resolutions at its last three sessions. The Security Council has held a number of thematic debates on the rule of law, and adopted resolutions emphasizing the importance of these issues in the context of women, peace and security, children in armed conflict, and the protection of civilians in armed conflict. The Peacebuilding Commission has also regularly addressed rule of law issues with respect to countries on its agenda. The Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action also requires the rule of law be included in human rights education. Additionally, the
Sustainable Development Goal 16 Sustainable Development Goal 16 (SDG 16 or Global Goal 16) is about "peace, justice and strong institutions." One of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals established by the United Nations in 2015, the official wording is: "Promote peaceful and ...
, a component of the 2030 Agenda is aimed at promoting the rule of law at national and international levels.

International Bar Association

The Council of the International Bar Association passed a resolution in 2009 endorsing a substantive or "thick" definition of the rule of law:
An independent, impartial judiciary; the presumption of innocence; the right to a fair and public trial without undue delay; a rational and proportionate approach to punishment; a strong and independent legal profession; strict protection of confidential communications between lawyer and client; equality of all before the law; these are all fundamental principles of the Rule of Law. Accordingly, arbitrary arrests; secret trials; indefinite detention without trial; cruel or degrading treatment or punishment; intimidation or corruption in the electoral process, are all unacceptable. The Rule of Law is the foundation of a civilised society. It establishes a transparent process accessible and equal to all. It ensures adherence to principles that both liberate and protect. The IBA calls upon all countries to respect these fundamental principles. It also calls upon its members to speak out in support of the Rule of Law within their respective communities.

World Justice Project

As used by the World Justice Project, a non-profit organization committed to advancing the rule of law around the world, the rule of law refers to a rules-based system in which the following four universal principles are upheld:
# The government and its officials and agents are accountable under the law; # The laws are clear, publicized, stable, fair, and protect fundamental rights, including the security of persons and property; # The process by which the laws are enacted, administered, and enforced is accessible, fair, and efficient; # Access to justice is provided by competent, independent, and ethical adjudicators, attorneys or representatives, and judicial officers who are of sufficient number, have adequate resources, and reflect the makeup of the communities they serve.
The World Justice Project has developed an Index to measure the extent to which countries adhere to the rule of law in practice. The WJP Rule of Law Index is composed of 9 factors and 52 sub-factors, and covers a variety of dimensions of the rule of law – such as whether government officials are accountable under the law, and whether legal institutions protect fundamental rights and allow ordinary people access to justice.

International Development Law Organization

The International Development Law Organization (IDLO) is an intergovernmental organization with a joint focus on the promotion of rule of law and development. It works to empower people and communities to claim their rights, and provides governments with the know-how to realize them. It supports emerging economies and middle-income countries to strengthen their legal capacity and rule of law framework for sustainable development and economic opportunity. It is the only intergovernmental organization with an exclusive mandate to promote the rule of law and has experience working in more than 90 countries around the world. The International Development Law Organization has a holistic definition of the rule of law:
More than a matter of due process, the rule of law is an enabler of justice and development. The three notions are interdependent; when realized, they are mutually reinforcing. For IDLO, as much as a question of laws and procedure, the rule of law is a culture and daily practice. It is inseparable from equality, from access to justice and education, from access to health and the protection of the most vulnerable. It is crucial for the viability of communities and nations, and for the environment that sustains them.
IDLO is headquartered in Rome and has a branch office in
The Hague The Hague ( ; nl, Den Haag or ) is a city and municipality of the Netherlands, situated on the west coast facing the North Sea. The Hague is the country's administrative centre and its seat of government, and while the official capital ...
and has Permanent Observer Status at the United Nations General Assembly in New York City.

International Network to Promote the Rule of Law

The International Network to Promote the Rule of Law (INPROL) is a network of over 3,000 law practitioners from 120 countries and 300 organizations working on rule of law issues in post-conflict and developing countries from a policy, practice and research perspective. INPROL is based at the US Institute of Peace (USIP) in partnership with the US Department of State Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Strategic Police Matters Unit, the Center of Excellence for Police Stability Unit, and William and Marry School of Law in the United States. Its affiliate organizations include the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Folke Bernadotte Academy, International Bar Association, International Association of Chiefs of Police, International Association of Women Police, International Corrections and Prisons Association, International Association for Court Administration, International Security Sector Advisory Team at the Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces, Worldwide Association of Women Forensic Experts (WAWFE), and International Institute for Law and Human Rights. INPROL provides an online forum for the exchange of information about best practices. Members may post questions, and expect a response from their fellow rule of law practitioners worldwide on their experiences in addressing rule of law issues.

In relation to economics

One important aspect of the rule-of-law initiatives is the study and analysis of the rule of law's impact on economic development. The rule-of-law movement cannot be fully successful in transitional and developing countries without an answer to the question: does the rule of law matter to economic development or not?
Constitutional economics Constitutional economics is a research program in economics and constitutionalism that has been described as explaining the choice "of alternative sets of legal-institutional-constitutional rules that constrain the choices and activities of economi ...
is the study of the compatibility of economic and financial decisions within existing constitutional law frameworks, and such a framework includes government spending on the judiciary, which, in many transitional and
developing countries A developing country is a sovereign state with a lesser developed industrial base and a lower Human Development Index (HDI) relative to other countries. However, this definition is not universally agreed upon. There is also no clear agree ...
, is completely controlled by the executive. It is useful to distinguish between the two methods of corruption of the judiciary: corruption by the executive branch, in contrast to corruption by private actors. The standards of
constitutional economics Constitutional economics is a research program in economics and constitutionalism that has been described as explaining the choice "of alternative sets of legal-institutional-constitutional rules that constrain the choices and activities of economi ...
can be used during annual budget process, and if that budget planning is transparent then the rule of law may benefit. The availability of an effective court system, to be used by the
civil society Civil society can be understood as the "third sector" of society, distinct from government and business, and including the family and the private sphere. The economist F. A. Hayek analyzed how the rule of law might be beneficial to the free market. Hayek proposed that under the rule of law, individuals would be able to make wise investments and future plans with some confidence in a successful return on investment when he stated: "under the Rule of Law the government is prevented from stultifying individual efforts by ''ad hoc'' action. Within the known rules of the game the individual is free to pursue his personal ends and desires, certain that the powers of government will not be used deliberately to frustrate his efforts." Studies have shown that weak rule of law (for example, discretionary regulatory enforcement) discourages investment. Economists have found, for example, that a rise in discretionary regulatory enforcement caused US firms to abandon international investments.

In relation to culture

The Treaty on the Protection of Artistic and Scientific Institutions and Historic Monuments or
Roerich Pact The Treaty on the Protection of Artistic and Scientific Institutions and Historic Monuments or Roerich Pact is an inter-American treaty. The most important idea of the Roerich Pact is the legal recognition that the defense of cultural objects i ...
is an inter-American
treaty A treaty is a formal, legally binding written agreement between actors in international law. It is usually made by and between sovereign states, but can include international organizations, individuals, business entities, and other legal per ...
. The most important idea of the Roerich Pact is the legal recognition that the defense of cultural objects is more important than the use or destruction of that culture for military purposes, and the protection of culture always has precedence over any
military necessity Military necessity, along with distinction, and proportionality, are three important principles of international humanitarian law governing the legal use of force in an armed conflict. Attacks Military necessity is governed by several constr ...
. The Roerich Pact signed on 15 April 1935, by the representatives of 21 American states in the
Oval Office The Oval Office is the formal working space of the President of the United States. Part of the Executive Office of the President of the United States, it is located in the West Wing of the White House, in Washington, D.C. The oval-shaped r ...
of the White House (Washington, DC). It was the first international treaty signed in the Oval Office. The
Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict The Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict is the first international treaty that focuses exclusively on the protection of cultural property in armed conflict. It was signed at The Hague, Net ...
is the first international treaty that focuses on the protection of cultural property in armed conflict. It was signed at
The Hague The Hague ( ; nl, Den Haag or ) is a city and municipality of the Netherlands, situated on the west coast facing the North Sea. The Hague is the country's administrative centre and its seat of government, and while the official capital ...
Netherlands ) , anthem = ( en, "William of Nassau") , image_map = , map_caption = , subdivision_type = Sovereign state , subdivision_name = Kingdom of the Netherlands , established_title = Before independence , established_date = Spanish Neth ...
on 14 May 1954 and entered into force on 7 August 1956. As of June 2017, it has been ratified by 128 states. The rule of law can be hampered when there is a disconnect between legal and popular consensus. An example is
intellectual property Intellectual property (IP) is a category of property that includes intangible creations of the human intellect. There are many types of intellectual property, and some countries recognize more than others. The best-known types are patents, cop ...
. Under the auspices of the World Intellectual Property Organization, nominally strong copyright laws have been implemented throughout most of the world; but because the attitude of much of the population does not conform to these laws, a rebellion against ownership rights has manifested in rampant
piracy Piracy is an act of robbery or criminal violence by ship or boat-borne attackers upon another ship or a coastal area, typically with the goal of stealing cargo and other valuable goods. Those who conduct acts of piracy are called pirates, v ...
, including an increase in
peer-to-peer file sharing Peer-to-peer file sharing is the distribution and sharing of digital media using peer-to-peer (P2P) networking technology. P2P file sharing allows users to access media files such as books, music, movies, and games using a P2P software program tha ...
. Similarly, in Russia,
tax evasion Tax evasion is an illegal attempt to defeat the imposition of taxes by individuals, corporations, trusts, and others. Tax evasion often entails the deliberate misrepresentation of the taxpayer's affairs to the tax authorities to reduce the ta ...
is common and a person who admits he does not pay taxes is not judged or criticized by his colleagues and friends, because the tax system is viewed as unreasonable. Bribery likewise has different normative implications across cultures.

In relation to education

Education has an important role in promoting the rule of law (RoL) and a culture of lawfulness. In essence, it provides an important protective function by strengthening learners’ abilities to face and overcome difficult life situations. Young people can be important contributors to a culture of lawfulness, and governments can provide educational support that nurtures positive values and attitudes in future generations. Through education, learners are expected to acquire and develop the
cognitive Cognition refers to "the mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses". It encompasses all aspects of intellectual functions and processes such as: perception, attention, thought ...
, socio-emotional and
behavioural Behavior (American English) or behaviour (British English) is the range of actions and mannerisms made by individuals, organisms, systems or artificial entities in some environment. These systems can include other systems or organisms as we ...
experiences and skills they need to develop into constructive and responsible contributors to society. Education also plays a key role in transmitting and sustaining socio-cultural norms and ensuring their continued evolution. Through formal education, children and youth are socialized to adopt certain values, behaviours, attitudes and roles that form their personal and social identity and guide them in their daily choices. As they develop, children and youth also develop the capacity to reflect critically on norms, and to shape new norms that reflect contemporary conditions. As such, education for justice promotes and upholds the principle of the RoL by: * Encouraging learners to value, and apply, the principles of the RoL in their daily lives, and; * Equipping learners with the appropriate knowledge, values, attitudes, and behaviours they need to contribute to its continued improvement and regeneration in society more broadly. This can be reflected, for instance, in the way learners demand greater transparency in, or accountability of, public institutions, as well as through the everyday decisions that learners take as ethically responsible and engaged citizens, family members, workers, employers, friends, and consumers etc. Global Citizenship Education (GCE) is built on a lifelong learning perspective. It is not only for children and youth but also for adults. It can be delivered in formal, non-formal and informal settings. For this reason, GCE is part and parcel of the
Sustainable Development Goal 4 Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4 or Global Goal 4) is about quality education and is among the 17 Sustainable Development Goals established by the United Nations in September 2015.United Nations (2017) Resolution adopted by the General Asse ...
on Education (SDG4, Target 4.7). A competency framework based on a vision of learning covers three domains to create a well-rounded learning experience: Cognitive, Socio-Emotional and Behavioural. Educational
policies Policy is a deliberate system of guidelines to guide decisions and achieve rational outcomes. A policy is a statement of intent and is implemented as a procedure or protocol. Policies are generally adopted by a governance body within an orga ...
and programmes can support the personal and societal transformations that are needed to promote and uphold the RoL by: * Ensuring the development and acquisition of key knowledge, values, attitudes and behaviours. * Addressing the real learning needs and dilemmas of young people. * Supporting positive behaviours. * Ensuring the principles of the RoL are applied by all learning institutions and in all learning environments.

See also

* * * * * * * * * * * * * (mob rule) * * * * * *

By jurisdiction

* * Three Supremes, policy by which law is made subordinate to interests of the Chinese Communist Party

Legal scholars

* * *


Notes and references


* * * Shlaes, Amity, ''The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression''
"The Rules of the Game and Economic Recovery"
* Torre, Alessandro, ''United Kingdom'', Il Mulino, Bologna, 2005.

Further reading

* *

External links

Hague Journal on the Rule of Law
', includes academic articles, practitioner reports, commentary, and book reviews.
The World Justice Project
A multinational, multidisciplinary initiative to strengthen the rule of law worldwide. *
"Understandings of the Rule of Law in various Legal Orders of the World"
', Wiki-Project of Freie Universitaet Berlin.
Eau Claire County Bar Association rule of law talk
* Frithjof Eh
"The Rule of Law: Concept, Guiding Principle and Framework"
* {{DEFAULTSORT:Rule Of Law Legal concepts Political concepts Philosophy of law Separation of powers Conservatism Liberalism