Definition of rule of law

rule of law is a rule of conduct, a legal norm , having a general, abstract and binding character , a social purpose, and which indicates what should be done in a given situation. Its source can be law or custom. The rule of law is applied and sanctioned by the public authorities . All the rules of law constitute positive law .

Characteristics of the rules of law:

  • general : they are applicable throughout the territory and for all the facts that occur there,
  • impersonal : they apply to individuals in a specific situation and do not deal with particular cases a priori. A rule which concerns only one person or a group of persons is a decree or a sentence.
  • social purpose : the aim is to organize the life of society . The rule of law is distinguished from the moral rule whose finality is the development of conscience and from the religious rule which would aim at the salvation of the soul. She can sometimes contradict them (eg divorce, abortion).
  • external : they do not depend on the will of the one who is subject to them, but are imposed on him, contrary to the moral rule.
  • permanent : they are durable and constant over time, between entry into force and modification or repeal .
  • mandatory : We distinguish:
    • mandatory rules of law : the subject cannot escape them.
    • auxiliary rules of law : they only apply if the subject has not expressed a particular desire for the organization of the situation.


  • coercive : coercion is exercised by the State which enforces and sanctions them. In the sanctions, we can distinguish:
    • the execution constraint of the rule of law. Eg: seizure by a bailiff on behalf of a creditor, eviction of a tenant who does not pay his rent.
    • the repairs . Ex: damages corresponding to the damage caused by the breach of the rule of law.
    • the punishment that is essentially a matter of criminal law . Ex: prison sentence, fine.


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