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Rule of law

The rule of law implies that government authority may only be exercised in accordance with written laws, which were adopted through an established procedure. The principle is intended to be a safeguard against arbitrary rulings in individual cases.

The rule of law is an ancient ideal of Western Culture first posited by Plato more than 2,500 years ago as a system of rules inherent in the natural order. It continues to be important as a normative ideal, even as legal scholars struggle to define it.

Perhaps the most famous exposition of the concept of rule of law was laid down by Albert Venn Dicey[?] in his Law of the Constitution in 1895:

When we say that the supremacy or the rule of law is a characteristic of the English constitution, we generally include under one expression at least three distinct though kindred conceptions. We mean, in the first place, that no man is punishable or can be 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. ...

... every official, from the Prime Minister down to a constable or a collector of taxes, is under the same responsibility for every act done without legal justification as any other citizen. The Reports abound with cases in which officials have been brought before the courts, and made, in their personal capacity, liable to punishment, or to the payment of damages, for acts done in their official character but in excess of their lawful authority. [Appointed government officials and politicians, alike] ... and all subordinates, though carrying out the commands of their official superiors, are as responsible for any act which the law does not authorise as is any private and unofficial person.

-- Law of the Constitution (London: MacMillan, 9th ed., 1950), 194.

See also: law.



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