Rule of law

The rule of law is the political philosophy that all citizens and institutions within a country, state, or community are accountable to the same laws, including lawmakers and leaders.[2] The rule of law is defined in the Encyclopedia Britannica as "the mechanism, process, institution, practice, or norm that supports the equality of all citizens before the law, secures a nonarbitrary form of government, and more generally prevents the arbitrary use of power."[3] The term rule of law is closely related to constitutionalism as well as Rechtsstaat and refers to a political situation, not to any specific legal rule.[4][5][6]

A mosaic representing both the judicial and legislative aspects of law. The woman on the throne holds a sword to chastise the guilty and a palm branch to reward the meritorious. Glory surrounds her head and the aegis of Minerva signifies the armor of righteousness and wisdom.[1]

Use of the phrase can be traced to 16th-century Britain. In the following century, the Scottish theologian Samuel Rutherford employed it in arguing against the divine right of kings.[7] John Locke wrote that freedom in society means being subject only to laws made by a legislature that apply to everyone, with a person being otherwise free from both governmental and private restrictions upon liberty. "The rule of law" was further popularized in the 19th century by British jurist A. V. Dicey. However, the principle, if not the phrase itself, was recognized by ancient thinkers. Aristotle wrote: "It is more proper that law should govern than any one of the citizens."[8]

The rule of law implies that every person is subject to the law, including persons who are lawmakers, law enforcement officials and judges.[9] In this sense, it stands in contrast to tyranny or oligarchy, where the rulers are held above the law.


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