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The Rule of Law

The Rule of Law

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The Rule of Law is an aspect of the British Constitution that has been emphasised by A V Dicey and it, therefore, can be considered an important part of British Politics. It involves:

The rights of individuals are determined by legal rules and not the arbitrary behaviour of authorities.
There can be no punishment unless a court decides there has been a breach of law.
Everyone, regardless of your position in society, is subject to the law.

The critical feature to the Rule of Law is that individual liberties depend on it. Its success depends on the role of trial by jury and the impartiality of judges. It also depends on Prerogative Orders.

There are three Prerogative Orders:

Certiorari calls a case up from an inferior court to a superior one to ensure justice is done.
Prohibition prevents an inferior court from hearing a case it does not have the power to listen to.
Mandamus orders an inferior court to carry out its duties.

How relevant to 21st British Politics and Society is the Rule of Law?

Supporters of a written and clearly defined constitution believe that as society has had its liberties more and more encroached on by central government, the Rule of Law is more important now than ever. They claim that central government has sought and seeks to undermine the three basic tenets of Dicey's code with an increase in things such as:

the Official Secrets Act
the attempt to remove an individual's right to trial by jury
the activities of the Secret Service (especially after September 11th)
removing what were considered traditional rights (such as the removal of the workers right at GCHQ to belong to a trade union under the Thatcher government (though brought back since 1997)
The gagging clause that now has to be signed by those in the Civil Service after the Clive Ponting and Belgrano issue shortly after the end of the Falklands War

However, individuals still retain a great deal of personal freedom and many individuals will never be affected by the Official Secrets Act or the activities of Britain's secret services (though they may not know if they are being investigated or not!) It is agreed with some justification that a modern society needs bodies like MI5 and MI6 simply because there are a tiny number of individuals who wish to subvert society and have to be dealt with accordingly. A law-abiding individual, it is argued, need never worry about such organisations.

Also there are bodies that theoretically oversee the activities of government agencies and their work - such as the Council of Tribunals and the Parliamentary Commissioner. It is argued that these bodies help to protect the rights of the individual at the expense of any incursions into their personal freedom by government agencies.


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