What is the Rule of Law and why is it still so applicable today?
The rule of law is defined as "the legal principle that law should govern a nation, as opposed to being governed by decisions of individual government officials. It refers to the influence and authority of law within society, particularly as a constraint upon behaviour, including behaviour of government officials."
In the United Kingdom the rule of law is a long-standing principle of the way the country is governed, dating from Magna Carta in 1215 and the Bill of Rights 1689. In the 19th century, A. V. Dicey, a constitutional scholar and lawyer, wrote of the twin pillars of the British constitution in his work of authority Introduction to the Study of the Law of the Constitution (1885). He said that these two pillars are the rule of law and parliamentary sovereignty- an ode to how important the rule of law is to society.
Rule of law implies that every person is subject to the law, including people who are lawmakers, and judges. In addition to this it also means the right to a free and fair trial, respect for the independence of the judiciary and that the law is always applied. Also it means that people cannot be detained or imprisoned without charge, a principle called habeas corpus.
How is this still relevant? You may ask. Well in 2004, some terror suspects were detained in Belmarsh Prison for longer than the allowed time of 28 days without charge. The appealed habeas corpus, which a judge upheld, and they were to be let free by the Prison. However the government quickly passed the Terrorism Act 2006 which allowed people suspected of terror to be detained without charge for a longer period of time.
In a time where allegations of misbehaviour and corruption are flung all over the place, especially in reference to governmental officials, the rule of law is an important feature in bringing these powerful people to justice for their wrongdoings. Hence, despite the age of this principle in our legal systems, it still remains that it is an important pillar of justice.
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