The Rule of Law is a complex concept subject to fierce academic debate. In the field of development, however, it has become an all-encompassing label for good things. This simplification is unfortunate, because there is no such thing as ‘good law’. For example, a law can be clear but violate human rights at the same time. On the other hand, a legal system can respect human rights but be unclear and inaccessible.
The Rule of Law demands four things.
- Laws must be clear, meaning that they are straightforward and do not contradict each other.
- Laws must be open, meaning that their content and the way they are made is accessible to the general population.
- Laws must be prospective, meaning that they cannot be used to on anything that took place in the past.
- Finally, the judiciary must be an independent institution.
The Rule of Law does not make for ‘good law’, but it is a necessary first step for having a better legal system.
WHY IS THE RULE OF LAW IMPORTANT?
The Rule of Law is a tool that can make a legal system open and accessible to all. Combined with reforms to promote human rights, empower minorities and fight for gender justice, it can become the most important tool for achieving social change.
It is the necessary foundation for human rights work, good governance and a stable democracy. This is because the clarity of laws allows citizens to understand the functioning of their government and engage with it. Moreover, it gives human rights activists a platform for advancing social change.
It allows the general population to conduct economic activity efficiently, by providing a clear set of rules upon which parties involved in a dispute can agree on. Finally, by providing a judiciary independent from executive power, it gives people a platform to challenge the government peacefully, and receive compensation or justice.
WHY WE SHOULD PROMOTE THE RULE OF LAW
Promoting the Rule of Law is difficult. Reviewing legislation is costly and slow. Passing a system of clear laws, democratically in a manner open to the public may seem like a challenge but it is only the first step. Raising awareness and ensuring the independence of institutions often requires political pressure and mass advocacy campaigns. Many organizations see the process as too slow and costly without delivering enough immediate quantifiable benefit.
Nonetheless, promoting the Rule of Law is crucial. Human rights protections cannot be sustainably achieved in a system where laws are unclear and can be changed at the will of a politician. Only by ensuring clarity and participation in the legal system can human rights be respected and protected.