Discuss the relevance of the concept of the rule of law to current constitutional arrangements in the UK

Authors Avatar

              Public Law Assignment                                                              

“In the mouth of British Constitutional Lawyer, the term “rule of law” seems to mean primary a corpus of basic principles and values, which together lend some stability and coherence to the legal order”. (TRS Allan).

In the light of the quote above, I am going to discuss the relevance of the concept of the rule of law to current constitutional arrangements in the UK. I will be looking at the current constitution in the UK, the doctrine of the rule of law and the relevance of the doctrine in the operation of state power.  

The UK is said to have an “unwritten constitution”, because it has no single codified documentary constitution.  However most of the constitution does exist in the written form of treaties, statutes and court judgements. Due to the absence of a formal written constitution in the UK, there is no positive statement of the basic principles governing state actions and no guidelines that could be used to assess the legitimacy of government action.  Lawyers and politicians have used the concept of the rule of law in order to provide such a measure. 

The rule of law is capable of being interpreted differently by different people.  It is a recognised principle of the English constitution, which is frequently used to signify a notion of “law and order”. At it’s broadest it is a framework that constrains arbitrary use of power. The concept of the rule of law dates back to many centuries the Greek philosophers recognised the need for a principle or “rule of law” to control the powers of the government.  In the study of constitution it is still seen to have relevance in helping to interpret the relationship between the individual and the state.  The principle is not enforceable by the courts directly and there is no legal justice for behaviour that contravenes it.  It is therefore used as a guiding principle as the exact meaning is not entirely clear.  In England, the introduction of the Magna Carta was a prime example of the rule of law.  King John was forced to submit to the law and succeeded in putting limits on feudal duties and fees by the Great Charter.    

As the “rule of law” can be interpreted in different ways, many writers have put definitions forward.  The most useful and influential definition of the rule of law is put forward by the jurist A.V Dicey. Dicey’s own reasons about the existence of the rule of law depended in large part on the work of Blackstone, Coke and Austin.  His definition contained three essential elements. 

“It means the absolute supremacy of predominance of regular law as opposed to the influence of arbitrary power and excludes the existence of arbitrariness, of prerogative or even wide discretionary authority on the part of government… a man may be punished for breach of law but he cannot be punished for anything else”.  By this he basically means that no one be it the government or an individual is above the law, and that everyone should abide by it.  Dicey then took this further and said that ordinary courts would have the right to punish offenders. A case that reflects this factor of Dicey’s rule of law is Congreave v The Home Office the case concluded that ministerial discretion could be challenged in court if exercised arbitrarily or improperly.  

Join now!

Another case that will have relevance to this factor is the case Malone v UK, here Mr Malone alleged that police wrongly intercepted his calls and bought civil action against the police on the grounds of breach of confidence, interference of privacy and trespass.  Sir Robert Megarry dismissed the claim, so Malone took it further to European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) under article 8 that deals with protecting the individual as it values the autonomy of a person.   "Its object is essentially that of protecting the individual against arbitrary interference by the public authorities in his private ...

This is a preview of the whole essay

Here's what a teacher thought of this essay


A very well structured essay. The points are thought out carefully. A greater emphasis on current examples would improve the grade. 4 Stars.