Rule of law


The rule of law is a form of state organization characterized by the equality of all citizens before the law, including those who hold power. Thus, eliminating the despotic character of the State.

The concept of "rule of law" arises in the nineteenth century, in Germany. And it is based on opposing the idea that the State is above everything, even the laws. Thus, it arises to give certain protection, within a legal framework, to the inhabitants of a State.

From the aforementioned, numerous interpretations and qualifications of this concept have emerged. There are definitions that strictly adhere to the law as a single value. That is, a rule of law is only one in which the rule of law exists. But with the passage of time and the emergence and spread of Western democracies, the rule of law seems to include other values ​​and principles. How to guarantee political rights and civil liberties, democracy as a system of government, impartiality of justice, etc.

And we see this clearly with the definition of the rule of law made by the UN: “A principle of governance in which all people, institutions and entities, public and private, including the State itself, are subject to laws that are publicly promulgated. , are enforced equally and applied independently, (…). It also demands that measures be adopted to guarantee respect for the principles of the primacy of the law, equality before the law, separation of powers, participation in decision-making, legality, non-arbitrariness, and procedural and legal transparency ”.

Participation in decision-making refers to citizens participating in public and governmental life. And this is achieved through democracy, since it is the only system that to date has allowed, although in practice in a very diffuse and sometimes irrelevant way, to participate in political life.

Characteristics of a rule of law

The characteristics of a rule of law are the following:

  • Law as the supreme value.
  • Equality of all citizens before the law.
  • Separation of powers.
  • Participation in decision-making.
  • Transparency in legal procedures.

Elements of a Rule of Law

According to the renowned professor Luis Villar Borda, the elements of which it is composed are the following:

  • Written constitution.
  • Separation of powers.
  • Principle of legality.
  • Principle of guarantee of fundamental rights.
  • Legal security and protection of trust.

Social and democratic state of law

When, at the beginning, we said that the rule of law encompasses more principles and elements beyond the law in its strictest conception, we also meant that it is usually accompanied by the concepts "social" and "democratic". To the point that these terms are often confused. That is, when we speak of the rule of law, many times we speak of a social state of law, a democratic state of law, or both together: a social and democratic state of law.

This is because, usually, what we understand by "Democracy" in its broadest sense is characterized by:

  • Democracy as a system of government. Avoiding the despotism of its rulers.
  • Law as a guiding principle that guarantees the equality of all citizens before the law.
  • Intervention in private life to ensure a decent standard of living and the provision of minimum services, this is its social character.

This is the reason why speaking of the rule of law to refer to the system of government of a State, on many occasions, can be considered incomplete.


Countries that are constituted as states of law are many, the vast majority of European countries, some South American, the United States, Canada, Japan, Australia, South Korea, and many others. Now there is an index called Rule of Law Index, developed by Word Justice Project, which measures, through numerous factors and indicators, their quality. The final score is between 0 and 1.

According to this index, the top 10 would normally be made up of: Denmark, Norway, Finland, Sweden, the Netherlands, Germany, New Zealand, Austria, Canada and Estonia. They all score above 0.80, which describes them as strong rule of law. The rest, according to their score, show clear deficiencies in some indicators that make up the index.

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