The Rule of Law

The Rule of Law Share

Following on from last month where we discussed democracy as one of Britain’s core values, given what’s been going on in the news, it seems somewhat fitting that the next value we tell you a bit about is the Rule of Law. Again, we won’t be going into the politics here, rather presenting the facts in relation to what’s currently going on. So, what does the Rule of Law mean, and why is it a core British Value? It can be broken down to four main areas:

Pillars of the Rule of Law

Accountability
The government as well as private actors are accountable under the law. This means that no-one (apart from the monarch) is above the law, and everyone must abide by the law, or face the relevant consequences.

Just Laws
The laws are clear, publicised, and stable; are applied evenly; and protect fundamental rights, including the security of persons and contract, property, and human rights. Despite some common belief that there is sometimes one rule for some, and one for others, in the UK the same rules should apply for everyone and be clearly accessible.

Open Government
The processes by which the laws are enacted, administered, and enforced are accessible, fair, and efficient. As we discussed last week, our laws are made democratically through various votes in parliament, and everything is recorded and publicly available to view.

Accessible & Impartial Dispute Resolution
Justice is delivered timely by competent, ethical, and independent representatives and neutrals who are accessible, have adequate resources, and reflect the makeup of the communities they serve. Perhaps the most challenging to see in practice, but accessibility of lawyers and free legal aid goes some way to ensuring this pillar stands firm in 21st century Britain.

These four universal principles constitute a working definition of the rule of law. They were developed in accordance with internationally accepted standards and norms, and were tested and refined in consultation with a wide variety of experts worldwide. That means we don’t expect them to change any time soon!

Unlawful or illegal?
The word ‘unlawful’ has been used quite a lot recently, thanks to a certain finding by the UK Supreme Court. But we should be careful to use the word carefully, and not confuse it with others, specifically ‘illegal’. So what’s the difference between them?

The word ‘illegal’ means that it is forbidden by a law that has been passed – you are seen to be breaking a law and therefore should be penalised accordingly. However, ‘unlawful’ means that something is not authorised by law because no such law has been passed. That means you can’t be penalised (sent to prison) for committing a crime, you just have no law there to protect your actions, and are likely to be brought into line. But if you want to know more than that, we recommend you speak to a legal expert!

So that’s our brief introduction to our second British Value ‘The Rule of Law’, look out for more later this month.