Explain Rule of law under the British Constitution?

(1) Introduction To Rule Of Law:

Concept of Rule of law is very old. It is an ancient ideal, and ancient Greek philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle also discussed it. The term ‘Rule of law’ has been derived from French phrase and this French phrase means principal of legality. Now, rule of law is a legal maxim and this maxim emphasizes on equality before law. According to this maxim, both government and citizens are subject to known and established laws and are not above law.

(2) Rule Of Law In Great Britain:

In Great Britain, rule of law was developed over centuries. Struggle for supremacy between British Parliament and British Monarch paved a way for development of this maxim in Great Britain. Explanation of following points is important for further study of this maxim as far as Great Britain is concerned:

  • (i) British Constitution
  • (ii) Determination of rights of individuals
  • (iii) No punishment unless breach of law
  • (iv) Subject to law
  • (v) Equality before law
  • (vi)Vicarious liability of ministers

(i) British Constitution:

Rule of Law is a significant aspect of British Constitution and is an important part of British politics. British Constitution recognizes that both government and people should be subject to law.

(ii) Determination Of Rights Of Individuals:

It is an admitted principle in Great Britain that rights of individuals should be determined by legal rules and not by arbitrary powers. Earlier, it were arbitrary powers of Monarch. Which determined rights of individual, but now rights are determined by laws. For people now possesses rights like right to speech, gather and so on.

(iii) No Punishment Unless Breach Of Law:

It is also a settled principle in Great Britain that there can be no punishment unless a court decides that there has been a breach of law. To achieve this goal, judiciary has been made independent.

(iv) Subject To Law:

It is another recognized principle in Great Britain that everyone, regardless of his/her status in society, is subject to the law. In other words, government and citizens are not above law, In this way, government and citizens have been made subject to law and misuse of powers has been checked.

(v) Equality Before Law:

This principle i.e. equality before law is strictly observed in Great Britain. Due to such strict observance, all are considered equal before law.

 (vi) Vicarious Liability Of Ministers:

In Great Britain, all ministers are considered responsible for mistake of a minister. Such vicarious liability of ministers guarantees rule of law in Great Britain.

(3) Exceptions

Followings are exceptions to concept of rule of law:

  • (i) Immunity for British King/Queen from arrest
  • (ii) Immunity for members of royal household
  • (iii) No arrest in presence of King/Queen
  • (iv) No arrest within borders of a royal palace
  • (v) No judicial process in a royal palace
  • (vi) British Crown’s political & personal wrong
  • (vii) Illegal acts of British Crown’s servants
  • (viii) Justice of Peace’s illegal act
  • (ix) Jude’s act during judicial proceedings
  • (x) Illegal acts of subordinates


 (i) Immunity For British King/Queen From Arrest

British King/Queen is exempted from arrest in all cases

(ii) Immunity For Members Of Royal Household

Members of royal household are also exerted from arrest in civil proceedings.

(iii) No Arrest In Presence Of King/Queen

No arrest can be made in King/Queen’s presence

(iv) No Arrest Within Borders Of A Royal Palace:

No arrest can be made in within borders of a royal palace.

(v) No Judicial Process In A Royal Palace

When royal palace is used as a residence, judicial process cannot be executed within that palace.

(vi) British Crown’s Political & Personal Wrong

In Great Britain, British Crown is not responsible for his/her political and personal wrong.

 (vii) Illegal Acts Of British Crown’s Servants

British Crown is not responsible for any illegal acts of his/her servants.

(viii) Justice Of Peace’s illegal Act

No action can be taken under British law against illegal act of Justice of Peace especially when such act is done during performance of his/her functions.

(ix) Judge’s Act During Judicial Proceedings

No action can be taken against judge’s act, which he/she has done during judicial proceedings.

(x) Illegal Acts Of Subordinates

Under British law, higher officers cannot be held liable for illegal acts of their subordinates.

(4) Conclusion:

To conclude, it can be stated that most of political critics have opined that there exists rule of law in Great Britain. However, the reality is that there also exist some exceptions to this opinion. For examples, judges cannot be held liable for any of their act during judicial proceedings, and British Monarch cannot be held responsible for his personal or political fault.

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