The Rule of law is one of the key constitutional principles in the UK. It is something that has been acknowledged by many statutes, both domestic and International. However, when looking further into what the rule of law actually is, there has been no firm definition given, which leaves it open to interpretations.
AV Dicey on the Rule of Law
Dicey was a British Constitutional Theorist in the 19th and early 20th century. His idea of the Rule of law was based on 3 key principles
- There should be no punishment without Law
- The law should be applied equally to all
- The constitution in the UK is different from any other country as it is not based on a written code of rights, it is based on the ordinary law that deals with the rights and obligations of individuals.
Although an fairly dated theory, is still said to have much influence at on today’s vision on the Rule of Law. The case of R v Remington where Lord Bingham stated that the individual should not be guilty of a crime that at the time of the act was not a criminal offence (the retrospective activity of legislation)
However, Sir Iver Jennings criticized Dicey’s approach to the Rule of law. Stating that it was an out of date approach for 20th century ideas of social justice.
Lord Bingham on the Rule of Law
Lord Bingham recently took on the challenge on further interpreting the Rule of law and what it means in today’s running of the UK. Once again, no definitive definition was given, however 8 principles were outlined which he believed to be important criteria of the Rule of Law, which did develop it further than Dicey’s approach.
- The law must be Clear Precise and Accessible
- Discretion that is delegated should be narrow
- The law should apply equally to all
- Fundamental Human Rights should be protected
- There should be a fair court system in place
- Legal funding should be in place to allow the court system to be accessible to those who need it
- Ministers should act in good faith
- The National Law should comply with International Law.
The whole topic raises many issues regarding the strength of all of the principles that certain individuals have stated is part of the Rule of Law. Each principle can be analysed and challenged due to its wide nature. However it is also a very important term, and perhaps even one that is best left undefined. It evolves and changes over time to suit the views of the public. One overlooming principle of the Rule of Law is fairness, which is a key concept of the whole and any constitution.