What is Rule of Law? Why does the Rule of Law Matter?


“No one is above the law.

All shall be treated equally under the law. All shall have equal access to justice under the law.”

This is the foundation for the “rule of law.”

The highest forms of democracy require a rule of law that ensures political freedom, civil rights, and trustworthy processes to ensure accountability. The Rule of Law Alliance endorses internationally accepted standards supported by the following principles for equitable governance.

Equality Under the Law

Governments, their representatives and all private citizens are accountable under the law.

Equal Application of the Law

The laws that govern must be clear, accessible, stable, and fair. These laws must apply equally to all and must protect fundamental human rights.

Accessible Legal Recourse

All people should have equal access to efficient processes and reasonable resolutions under the law. All laws should be enacted, administered, and enforced to ensure equal justice for all.

Independent Judiciary

An ethical, independent judiciary is necessary to establish and enforce fair and just laws that reflect the will of the people.

Why Does the Rule of Law Matter?

 “The clearest way to show what the rule of law means to us in everyday life is to recall what has happened when there is no rule of law.”  

– Dwight D. Eisenhower

More than 800 years ago, the Magna Carta was signed, establishing that a premise that holds every individual accountable under the law, even kings and governments, guaranteeing the rights of individuals, access to justice and the right to a fair trial among others.  In essence, the Magna Carta established the principle of the rule of law.

The rule of law focuses on the ways that power is exercised. It underscores the need to mitigate excessive power and to moderate the flagrant exercise of power, so that abundant power cannot be wielded by the powerful to the detriment of others.  Adherence to the rule of law limits or eliminates “arbitrary power” which threatens to undermine the freedom, rights and security of all.

True freedom requires the rule of law and justice, and a judicial system in which the rights of some are not secured by the denial of rights to others. Jonathan Sacks

The rule of law requires that laws be exercised on the basis of evidence, tested, refined by discourse and argument, and justified for the understanding of the public. Citizens must be able to examine, question, and rely upon the faithful, ethical application and execution of these laws. The rule of law does not merely constrain power; it encourages reflection and thoughtfulness.

The rule of law ensures that all people are treated equally and fairly under the law.  It is the foundation for democracy, for ethical legislation, social development, economic development and governments that truly reflect the will of the people.  American theologian, ethicist, and political commentator, Reinhold Niebuhr once said “Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary.”

In essence, the rule of law is necessary for the development and preservation of democracies that seek the protection of all citizens.