Rule of law

The following Public Law practice note provides comprehensive and up to date legal information covering:

  • Rule of law
  • Introduction
  • Background
  • 'Thin' and 'thick' conceptions of the rule of law
  • Bingham’s approach to the rule of law
  • Conceptions of the rule of law outside the Anglo-American tradition
  • The rule of law reflected in the European Convention on Human Rights
  • The rule of law in statute
  • Case law on the rule of law

Rule of law


The rule of law is a principle essential to just government. It is notoriously hard to define, yet its essence has been understood since antiquity as being that rulers should govern by means of law, and be subject to law’s authority rather than being above it. Modern thinking tends to emphasise the importance of democracy and human rights as necessary to fill out a thicker understanding of the rule of law.


Plato gave these words to a nameless Athenian in his Laws:

And when I call the rulers servants or ministers of the law, I give them this name not for the sake of novelty, but because I certainly believe that upon such service or ministry depends the well- or ill-being of the state. For that state in which the law is subject and has no authority, I perceive to be on the highway to ruin; but I see that the state in which the law is above the rulers, and the rulers are the inferiors of the law, has salvation, and every blessing which the Gods can confer.

and Aristotle says in his Politics that

order is law; and it is more proper that law should govern than any one of the citizens: upon the same principle, if it is advantageous to place the supreme power in some particular persons, they should be appointed to

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