Post Mortem

Laying the Foundation for the Rule of Law

By Nagaland Post | Publish Date: 9/17/2019 11:35:01 AM IST

 Any talk about freedom is meaningless without the rule of law. That’s why people come up with a government to make laws and enforce them so as to bring order and security in their society. But what if the government doesn’t do what it is meant to do? What if those who are supposed to uphold the laws of the land become the main violators of the rule of law?

In such a situation, lack of respect for laws takes root, indiscipline becomes widespread, and people’s lives are put at risk. Take, for example, a cursory look at the Naga society: If our politicians were law-abiding, everyone else would be afraid of breaking the laws. But if the leaders had no respect for the law, those under them would not respect the law either. If public servants respected service rules, they would arrive at work on time and put in an honest day’s work; if the police were sincere in the business of law enforcement, they would enforce laws instead of taking bribes and letting people go free. But if these public employees don’t care about obeying the laws themselves, what else could one expect from the general population? 

For a society to enjoy law and order, its leaders must be models of high integrity for the common people. To compromise this standard is to risk the governmental systems, which is responsible for keeping all in the “ship” afloat or else all may sink as a body politic.

For the stability of any nation, the law must have primacy over its rulers. Leaders, both good and bad, will always come and go; but as long as the rule of law is in place, citizens have nothing to worry about. This need for supremacy of law over rulers was recognized by the Greek philosopher Aristotle as early as the 4th century BC when he argued for “a government of laws, not men.”

If the rule of law is so important to the success of a nation, how should its laws be formulated and implemented? Here are some must-have legal elements to consider:

Constitution: Creating a constitution is central to a nation’s assertion of identity and sovereignty. The constitution provides the overall architecture for how that nation’s citizens will rule themselves. It gives the fundamental framework on how the people will make decisions, choose their direction, solve their disputes, and live together as a people. By addressing these things, a constitution spells out the laws of the land and guides a community to move from the right to self-government to the exercise of practical sovereignty.

Legislature:  Legislative Members must focus more on legislations instead of looking for governmental loopholes to escape from potential legal problems. For starters, they should draft new legislations on all key issues not mentioned in the constitution in accordance with internationally recognized standards and with their own traditions. For law enforcement, they should help to develop appropriate criminal procedures and criminal codes, as well as codes regulating the actions of the police so that no citizen may be unduly harassed or accused without due process. As people’s representatives, legislators must always be on the forefront promoting the rule of law so as to create a rule-of-law culture amongst the people.

Customary Laws:  Customary laws can play a complementary role in providing justice and healing relationships in the post-conflict phase. Disputes over water rights, village boundaries, and civil cases among people in rural areas may be best left to customary methods. But serious criminal cases, especially violent crimes, may need to be adjudicated through the official system of courts.    

Courts and Judges:Judges derive their power of office from the constitution, and not from the executive branch. As such, they have full authority to function independently and treat all people – from the Chief Executive to a daily laborer – as equals before the law. They are not vested with political power to rule;they are supposed to be strict constitutionalists, adhering to the doctrine of originalism. That means they can neither legislate on the bench nor be involved in judicial activism; they may only interpret the constitution, statutes and legislations passed down to them as laws and then issue their verdicts without fear or favor. As responsible judges, they embody the law as well as the rule of law. Otherwise, judges are just like any other public employees, courts just like any other buildings, and the constitution just some pieces of paper put together. 

Corrections Systems: A functioning correctional system is necessary if law enforcement is to be effective. Severe penalties for violent crimes should be swiftly carried out; pretrial detention facilities should be built; accused juveniles should be separated from adults; rehabilitation programs and job training should be offered; correction personnel should be trained to internationally accepted standards.

Law Enforcement: The prime responsibility of any police force is to enforce the law. As law enforcers they are expected to know the law well and live by it; they must have the highest respect for human rights. This means they should understand that every human being has certain rights and therefore assume even the accused as innocent until proven guilty in the court of law. This also implies that no police officer may arbitrarily harass, arrest, or torture any person without reasonable cause. Another important job of the police personnel is to provide public security and protect the people. After all, the public is their employer and boss. That’s why police must always beaccountable and responsive to the people whom they are called to serve, regardless of the latter’s social and political standing, as is done in advanced countries.

In short, without the rule of law, individuals or groups take the law into their own hands, which often leads to all sorts of moral bankruptcy, social disorder, political instability, andeconomic loss. But when the rule of law exists, quality of lives improvesand society prospers. 

  Mazie Nakhro


Launched on December 3,1990. Nagaland Post is the first and highest circulated newspaper of Nagaland state. Nagaland Post is also the first newspaper in Nagaland to be published in multi-colour.

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