The idea of the Rule of Law is not new. It is bound up with the liberty of the citizen. All through the ages, philosophers have grappled with the problem of safeguarding the liberties of citizens so as to avoid tyranny or arbitrary exercise of governmental powers over citizens. The current idea of the Rule of Law owes much to the writings of that articulate British writer, A. V. Dicey who in 1885 wrote a book The Law of the Constitution in which he articulated and expounded the principles of Rule of Law. According to Dicey, Rule of Law has three discernible facts.
1. Supremacy of the Law
This means the absolute supremacy or predominance of regular law as opposed to the influence of arbitrary power and excludes the existence of arbitrariness, of prerogative, or even of wide discretionary authority on the part of the government. In other words, governmental power must be exercised in accordance with the laws of the land – a all for constitutionalism.
2. Equality before the Law
This involves equality of all men before the law or the equal subjection of all classes of people to the ordinary law of the land administered by the ordinary law court. The rule of law in this sense excludes the idea of any exemption of officials or others from the duty of obedience to the law that governs other citizens or from the jurisdiction of the ordinary tribunals. This implies that every citizen irrespective of sex, occupation, rank status, is subject to the ordinary laws of the land without discrimination. An official of government cannot claim any preferential treatment especially if he preaches the law as he will be subjected to the usual process of the ordinary courts of the land.
3. Inherent and Inalienable Rights of Citizens
The rule of law is basically used as a fundamental formula for expressing the idea that the rights of the citizens are not conferred on the individual or citizens by the Constitution. Such rights are inherent in the citizens and are inalienable. These are simply reinstated in the Constitution.
Problems of Application of the Rule of Law
The rule of law is not realised fully in the real world because a number of factors militate against it. These include:
(a) Ignorance of the Law:
Most members of the society are ignorant of the law. They do not even know their rights and obligations. And since ignorance of the law is no excuse, these people suffer untold deprivation in spite of the rule of law.
(b) Existence of Class Society and Class interest:
In societies where this phenomenon is prevalent, class interest acts to pervert justice. The upper class or the rich opposed the lower class or the poor.
(c) Red Tapism:
The greatest threat to the rule of law is red tapism. It is a popular maxim in the legal circles that “Justice delayed is justice denied”. This is a classic effect of red-tapism.
Where emergencies resulting from political and economic instability are recurrent, any discussion of the rule of law is mere wishful thinking. It does not make much sense to the people especially the poor.
(e) High Cost of Litigation:
In most developing countries, the cost of litigation or seeking redress in the court is simply too exorbitant. In the absence of legal aid facilities, Court facilities are not easily available to the poor in the society.
(f) Manipulation of the Judiciary:
In some societies, leaders manipulate the judiciary for their own interest and thereby pervert the course of justice. The fate of the rule of law in situations like these can only be assumed.