Rule of Law: Essence of Administrative Law in India
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The rule of law is the legal principle that law should govern a nation, as opposed to being governed by arbitrary decisions of individual government officials. It primarily refers to the influence and authority of law within society, particularly as a constraint upon behavior, including the behavior of government officials. In India, the Constitution is regarded as Supreme law of the land and UK is known for following the rule.
This article begins by providing the introduction to the doctrine and also Dicey’s three principles. Then the later section deals with practical application of the rule of law in India and in the UK along with criticism with regards to its application and current scenario.
DOCTRINE OF RULE OF LAW
The concept of Rule of Law is not new to us; philosophers like Aristotle and Plato have discussed it earlier. Plato said “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 show on a state”. Indian philosophers like Chanakya has embraced the concept in his own way stating that the King should be governed by the word of law. Sir Edward Coke coined the concept and is derived from a French phrase ‘la principle de legalite’ which means the principle of legality. The basis of the Administrative Law is considered to be the doctrine of Rule of Law.
A.V. Dicey laid down the basis of the doctrine and his thesis became very popular in this area. In 1885, he propounded, that Englishmen were ruled by law and law alone and also asserted on the fact that wherever there was discretion there was a room for arbitrariness which led to the insecurity of legal freedom of citizens. He gave three principles based on the above principle:
Supremacy of Law: In simple words, it says that no man is above law or can only be punished for a breach of the law. Every person is governed by law including those who are administering it and also governs the lawmakers while exercising their powers to make and administer the law. They are bound to justify their act by proper reasoning otherwise the whole motive of the doctrine is hampered.
Equality before the law: The principle states equal and ordinary law of the land for all the classes of people irrespective of their caste, creed, religion etc. and are bestowed to the regular law courts. The fair laws should be administered and enforced in just and proper manner. For example in Indian Constitution Article 14 and excerpts of Article 15, we get a glimpse of the doctrine.
Predominance of legal spirit: Mere inclusion of above-mentioned principles in the law of any state is not enough. According to Dicey written guarantee is immaterial unless there is a mechanism by which it can be enforced. Such authority is believed to be present in Courts which should be unbiased and free from any kind of external influences. Therefore judicial control of the Administrative action is an important pillar of Administrative Law.
APPLICATION OF RULE OF LAW IN INDIA
The concept of rule has been traced back to the era of Upanishads and the law makers were well aware of the postulates stated by Dicey. The origin is owed to British jurisprudence and was applied with due modification to British India. The doctrine penetrates to form a basic feature into our Constitution. The necessary element is that the law must not be discretionary and arbitrary and should be in compliance with the test of reason[i]. Article 13(1) declares any law made which is inconsistent with the basic structure of the Constitution invalid. Article 14 incorporates the principle of equality and states that no discrimination to be made on any basis. Article 21 safeguards the basic human right to life and property which a person cannot be deprived of except with the procedure established by law.
In India, the meaning is a bit expanded and it cannot be repealed or eliminated by the Parliament as it is being regarded as a basic structure. The most popular Habeas Corpus case, ADM Jabalpur v. Shivakant Shukla[ii], is an excellent example; in this case, the question before the court was ‘whether there was any rule of law in India apart from Article 21’. This was in context of suspension of enforcement of Articles 14, 21 and 22 during the proclamation of an emergency. The answer of the majority of the bench was in negative for the question of law. However Justice H.R. Khanna dissented from the majority opinion and observed that:
“Even in absence of Article 21 in the Constitution, the state has got no power to deprive a person of his life and liberty without the authority of law. Without such sanctity of life and liberty, the distinction between a lawless society and one governed by laws would cease to have any meaning…”
The Hon’ble Supreme Court expressed the rule of law as one of the most important aspects of the doctrine of basic structure.[iii] It also declared that Article 14 stands against arbitrariness[iv] and also in our constitutional system; the central and most characteristic feature is the concept of rule of law which means, in the present context, the authority of law courts to test all administrative action by the standard of legality. The administrative or executive action that does not meet the standard will be set aside if the aggrieved person brings the matter into notice[v]. In the Supreme Court case Union of India v. Raghubir Singh[vi] it is rightly recapitulated that it is not a matter of doubt that a considerable degree that governs the lives of the people and regulates the State functions flows from the decision of the superior courts. The concept of Judicial review was inserted to aid and facilitate the basic intention behind the rule. In Indira Gandhi Nehru v. Raj Narain[vii], Article 329-A was inserted to provide immunities to the Prime Minister from judicial review but was declared invalid on the grounds that it undermined the basic structure of the Constitution. Over the years the courts have used judicial activism to expand the concept and have successfully extended it to the poor who covers the considerable part of India by expanding the locus standi principle to help the poor[viii].
Dicey's Concept of Rule of Law is optimist in Nature which is very difficult to execute in the country like India. Our designers of the constitution while fusing the guardian demonstration attempted to include the idea into the Constitution of India yet the expectation with which our composers fused the idea have gone in vain. Though it is interesting to note that while on ideological plain majority rule government should protect the rule of law and the organization of criminal equity, in real practice, the discretionary procedure which is a necessary piece of vote based system is undermining the principle of law and due organization of criminal equity. This must be put to an end. The conventional idea in all cultivated liberal countries is that majority rule government and rule of law are close partners of each other. It has to be the effort of all well-meaning persons to ensure that their kinship is not weakened and that each of them continues to lend strength to the other. In all matters such as the protection of the rights of the people, equal treatment before the law, protection against excessive arbitrariness, the Constitution of India has provided enough mechanisms to ensure that the Rule of Law is followed.
The key idea of the rule of law is that the law should apply equally to all rulers and ruled alike. There is not much a difference as far as the usage and importance of doctrine is considered in our country. The concept of rule of law does not merely mean formal legality which assures regularity and consistency in the achievement and enforcement of democratic order, but justice based on the recognition and full acceptance of the supreme value of the human personality and guaranteed by institutions providing a framework for its fullest expression.
Administrative law is considered to be the most outstanding legal development of the twentieth century. It does not mean that it had no existence before rather it was followed in different ways using different names in different countries.
The modern concept of Rule of Law is fairly wide. This concept was developed by International Commission of Jurists. This concept implies that the function of government in the society should be so exercised as to create conditions in which the dignity of man as an individual is upheld. During the last few years, the Supreme Court of India has developed some fine principles of third world jurisprudence.
The Courts in India have established Rule of Law society. The public administration has effectively implemented rule of law. Today the administrative process has grown so much that we are not governed but administered. The negative side of it is that respect for law degenerates into legalism which from its very rigidity works as an injury to the nation.
Despite its inconsistencies, its crudities, its delays and its weaknesses, Rule of Law still embodies so much of the results of that disposition as we can collectively impose. Without it one cannot live; only with it, one can insure the future which by right is ours. The best of man's hopes are enmeshed in its process; when it fails they must fail; the measure in which it can reconcile our passions, our wills, our conflicts, is the measure of our opportunity to find ourselves. Man may be a little lower than the angels, he has not yet shaken off the brute and the brute within is apt to break loose on occasions. To curb and control that brute and to prevent the degeneration of society into a state of tooth and claw, what is required is the ‘Rule of Law’.
[i] Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab, AIR 1982 SC 1325.
[ii] ADM Jabalpur v. Shivakant Shukla, AIR 1967 SC 1207.
[iii] Kesavanda Bharti v. State of Kerela, (1973) 4 SCC 225.
[iv] Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India, AIR 1978 SC 579.
[v] Chief settlement Commr; Punjab v. Om Prakash,  3 SCR 655.
[vi] Union of India v. Raghubir Singh, (1989) 2 SCC 754.
[vii] Indira Gandhi Nehru v. Raj Narain AIR 1975 SC 2299.
[viii] Veena Sethi v. State of Bihar, (1982) 2 SCC 583.
Author: Mokshita Jain
College: Symbiosis Law School
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