EQUALITY BEFORE LAW UNDER ARTICLE 14
Article 14 of the Indian constitution provides that the state shall not deny to any person Equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws in the Territory of India. The fundamental principle of liberalism is to treat all people equally, and Article 14 guarantees the same for our citizens. Any individual’s liberty is directly related to the freedom he/she gets in society. Under Article 14, any individual within India cannot be denied equality before the law or equal protection of the law by the State. The word “equality before law” is a negative concept and the State has a responsibility to refrain from performing any act that is fundamentally discriminatory.
The right under Article 14 has been embodied in two phrases that is:
- A) Equality before law, and
- B) Equal protection of laws.
EQUALITY BEFORE LAW
Equality before law is an expression of English common law. It is a negative notion that implies the lack of any special privilege in favour of any citizen. This means that everyone is equal before the law. Equality before law simply means that the law should be equal and it should be applied equally among equals. The right to sue and be sued, to prosecute and to be prosecuted for the same kind of conduct is granted to all citizens of the country without distinction of race, religion, income, social status or political power. According to Dicey, The rule of law implies equality before the law or equal subjection of all classes to the ordinary law of the land governed by the courts of ordinary law.
EQUALITY BEFORE LAW AND RULE OF LAW
The guarantee of equality before the law is an aspect of what Dicey calls the rule of law in England. It means that no man is above the law and that every person is subject to the jurisdiction of ordinary courts, whatever is his rank or conditions. Every official from the Prime Minister down to a constable or tax collector is under the same responsibility as any other citizen for every act done without legal justification, Dicey wrote. The rule of law requires that no person be subjected to harsh, uncivilised or discriminatory treatment, even if the objective is to ensure that the essential requirements of law and order are fulfilled.
According to Dicey, the Rule of law is:
- Absence of Arbitrary power or Supremacy of the law: It means the absolute supremacy of law as supposed to the arbitrary power of the Government. A person may be punished for a violation of the law, but he may not be punished for anything else.
- Equality before the law: It means that all classes are subject to the ordinary law of the land that is governed by ordinary courts of law. With the sole exception of the monarch, no one is above the law and can do no wrong. Everybody in England is obliged to follow the same rules, whether he is an official of the state or a private individual. Thus in Great Britain, elected officials do not hold a privileged position. There is one code of law in Great Britain and one system of courts for all, i.e. public officials and private persons.
- The constitution is the outcome of the ordinary law of the land: it implies that not the written constitution but the laws as specified and implemented by the courts are the source of the right of the individuals.
ACCESS TO JUSTICE
By equality before the law It is implied that everybody has access to justice. No one should be excluded from getting access to justice. Everyone in the legal system should be treated fairly. Some fundamental rights of an individual are included in the term “Access to Justice.” By defining access to justice, we mean that every person should have the right to appear before a court. There are also several individuals who are deprived of access to justice due to economical knowledge or lack of awareness. It implies that the government has to play a crucial role in ensuring justice to them. We need to change our legal system in order to ensure access to justice. We need to focus on the legal aid system.
The court held in Stephen’s College v. Delhi University that the term “Equal protection of laws is now being read as a positive obligation on the state to ensure equal protection of laws by bringing about necessary social and economic changes so that everyone can enjoy equal protection of laws and no one is denied such protection. If the state leaves its laws unaffected by the current inequalities, it fails to offer equal protection under its laws to all persons in its duty. All the citizens of India and even non-citizens of India would be equally covered by the state and state will provide equal protection to all the people.
In the case of the State of West Bengal v. Anwar Ali Sarkar, the court held that the term ‘equal protection of law’ is a natural consequence of the term ‘equality before law,’ and it is therefore very difficult to imagine a situation in which there has been violation of equal protection of law is not a violation of equality before law. Therefore, they have different meanings, the terms are also interrelated.
EXCEPTIONS TO EQUALITY BEFORE LAW
- There is some exception to the rule of equality which has been provided under the Indian Constitution. Under Articles 105 and 194, the Members of the Parliament and the State Legislatures respectively are not held liable for anything which they say within the House.
- Under Article 359 when there is a proclamation of Emergency, the operation of Fundamental Rights including Article 14 can be suspended and if any violation of this right is done during such proclamation, it cannot be challenged in the Courts after the proclamation ends.
- Under Article 361 the President and the Governors are not liable to any court for any act which is done by them in exercising their power and duties of the office.
- Under Article 361(2) no criminal proceedings shall be instituted or continued against the President or the Governor during his term of office.
- No person shall be liable to any civil or criminal proceedings in respect of publication in respect of the publication in a newspaper or by radio or television etc.
- Rulers of foreign countries, their ambassadors etc. enjoy immunity from criminal and civil proceedings.
Author: Ishita Agrawal,
B.A.LL.B. 3rd year, Himachal Pradesh National Law University Shimla