The Rule of Law


The rule of law is a fundamental doctrine by which every individual must obey and submit to the law, and not arbitrary action by other people of groups. In essence, no one is above the law. The United Kingdom does not have a written constitution. The rule of law, along with Parliamentary Sovereignty and court rulings, is fundamentally the defining principle of our ‘unwritten constitution’.

In general, the rule of law implies that laws which are created by legitimate means and exercised in a manner which is legally regulated, meams that no one—including the most highly placed official—is above the law.The legal constraint on rulers means that the government is subject to existing laws as much as its citizens are.

Therefore a closely related notion is the idea of equality before the law, which holds that no “legal” person shall enjoy privileges that are not extended to all and that no person shall be immune from legal sanctions.

In addition, the application and adjudication of legal rules by various governing officials are to be impartial and consistent across equivalent cases, made blindly without taking into consideration the class, status, or relative power among disputants.

In order for those ideas to have any real purchase, moreover, there should be in place some legal apparatus for compelling officials to submit to the law.

  • Equal access to the law.

  • Equally treatment by the law

  • No one above the law

  • Legal systems which follow fair and open processes -'Due process'

  • The law should be administered by an independent judiciary

How well is the rule of law applied in the UK?

The rule of law is seen as an important element of liberal democracy which ensure that governments are limited by legal restraints however the UK is criticised for having an elective dictatorship since governments dominate the law making process. for example

  • 2019 Theresa May's government attempted to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty without consulting Parliament.

  • 2019 Boris Johnson's government prorogued Parliament. The move was seen by many opposition politicians and political commentators as a controversial and unconstitutional attempt by the prime minister to avoid parliamentary scrutiny of the Government's Brexit plans in those final weeks leading up to Brexit.

  • 2020 The government imposed a lock down on the UK after passing the Corona Virus Bill to extend police powers. This bill was passed with almost no discussion in Parliament.


However

The increasing activism of the UK Supreme Court and its willingness to use Judicial Review to limit government actions and up hold rights has improved the exercise of the Rule of Law.

An example of the exercise of the Rule of Law is Boris Johnson being questioned under caution by the police and later being given a fixed penalty notice following the 'Party gate affair'


There have also been criticisms of the UK's Judicial Independence and Judicial Neutrality

However

reforms such as the creation of a Supreme Court, The Constitutional Reform Act 2005 which created an independent appointments process for judges and The Human Rights Act



Mark Elliott. Mark is Professor of Public Law and Chair of the Faculty of Law at the University of Cambridge.