October 25, 2020

The Meaning and Importance of the Rule of Law

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The purpose of this tutorial is to assist every WASSCE Government student/candidate to easily understand the important concept of the Rule of Law.

As you may be aware, Rule of Law one of the key topics in the WASSCE Government syllabus.

The vital components of this tutorial are:

  • Definition of the Rule of Law
  • Importance of the Rule of Law
  • Factors that limit the Rule of Law in West Africa
  • How to enforce the Rule of Law

Let’s begin with our first major question about the Rule of Law.

What is the meaning of Rule of Law?

The Rule of Law is the restriction of the exercise of power to only what is authorized by law.

It is the supremacy of the law as specified by the constitution of a state. The law is supreme over the political leaders in government and over people making up the state as well.

Everybody, in a defined political system, should be subject to the laws of the land.

Professor Albert Venn Dicey (A.V. Dicey), in his book, Introduction to the Study of the Law of the Constitution argues that political leaders entrusted with the governance of the country should do so in line with the agreed laws of the land. Failure to do so may result in arbitrary government.

Principles of the Rule of Law

Generally, the Rule of Law has three basic principles namely:

  1. Legality (supremacy of the law): No individual shall be made to suffer in body or property unless for a distinct breach of the law established in the ordinary legal manner before the ordinary courts of the land.
  2. Impartiality (equality before the law). Every individual regardless of their political views, social or economic status is subject to the ordinary laws of the land. The law is no respecter of persons.
  3. Liberty (constitutional guarantee of citizens’ rights). Such freedoms and rights as relating to speech association, expression, life, ownership of property, unlawful arrest etc. need to be entrenched in the constitution.
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Following the international commission of jurists’ meeting in India in 1959, it has become imperative for the state to see to the socio-economic well-being of the individual as an integral part of the  effort to promote the rule of law.

The Importance of the Rule of Law

Here are the reasons why it is necessary for a state to practice or enforce the rule of law.

  1. To prevent dictatorship and arbitrary government:  
  2. To protect the  rights and liberties of citizens:  
  3. To improve the standard of living of citizens.
  4. To ensure social and political stability.

Factors That Limit the Practice of the Rule of Law in West African Countries

Below is a list of factors that make it difficult for the rule of law to work effectively in West African countries.

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  1. Military dictatorships: Military governments rule by decrees which cannot be challenged by citizens. They are not the true representatives of the people and are therefore illegitimate..
  2. One party system: A government is a one-party system is intolerant of divergent views and easily degenerates into dictatorship. One-party system governments are known to trample upon the rights of citizens.
  3. Absence of judicial independence
  4. Corruption in the judiciary
  5. Economic inequalities and lack of social amenities
  6. Widespread ignorance among the citizenry
  7. Special courts e.g. Administrative Tribunals
  8. Outmoded cultural practices e.g. Trokosi (Vestal Virgins) system in parts of Ghana.
  9.  Declaration of a state of emergency.
  10. Diplomatic immunity enjoyed by foreign diplomats.

Factors that Can Promote the Rule of Law

The rule of law has a better chance to work effectively where the following conditions prevail in the state.

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  1. All fundamental human rights must be entrenched in the constitution.
  2. There must be the use of prerogative writs such as mandamus, certiorari, prohibition, subpoena and habeas corpus by the courts to control state institutions and officials. This will protect the rights of the people.
  3. The judiciary must be truly independent.
  4. There must be tolerance of opposing views especially on the part of the government.
  5. There must be a free mass media to promote freedom of expression.
  6. Socioeconomic facilities and opportunities must be made available to all.e.g. jobs, education, health, social security, potable water, electricity, housing etc.
  7. Individuals must be educated to have adequate knowledge of their rights and duties.

Ralph Nyadzi

Ralph has a passion for the teaching and learning of Language and Literature mainly because these two help him to understand and appreciate why people act the way they do. Over the past two decades, he has coached over 5000 students and adult learners to achieve their educational goals. Ralph is the founder and CEO of Cegast Academy.

View all posts by Ralph Nyadzi →

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