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Dimensions of the Legal

Geeta Ramaseshan

Edited by N.R. Madhava Menon
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2008, pp. 228, Rs. 495.00


This collection of eleven essays, based on lectures organized by the Nehru Centre, analyse different dimensions of rule of law. Despite the book’s title most of the essays deal with the Indian experience while drawing from developments in other parts of the world.   The concept of rule of law as has developed through centuries is often difficult to comprehend as it means different things to different people. Often described as ‘an unruly horse’ it has nevertheless been a fundamental principle in good governance. As Menon points out in his preface, the key determinant in the continuance of rule of law is the provision of adequate safeguards against the abuse of power. This check and balance of the executive is provided by a scheme of limitations of power including freedoms guaranteed to the citizens and the separation of the executive and the judiciary. In the Indian context, in addition to separation of powers between the various branches of constitutional institutions, the existence of judicial review of executive action provided under the Constitution ensures that power is exercised within the limits of law. Sadly enough these structures are proving to be shaky and the rebuilding of their foundations seems an uphill task. The essays raise these concerns and try to find some answers.   Certain common concerns are raised by most of authors. Prominent among them is the corruption and criminalization of politics that the authors see as major impediments to good governance. Except for three essayists all others belong to the field of law. There is thus a greater focus on issues concerning the judiciary and the legal system.   The essays are divided into three parts. The first part deals with the concept and relevance of rule of law. Soli Sorabjee traces the development of rule of law through judicial precedents and links it to the process of globalization. ‘There cannot be a fair process of globalization unless it is accompanied by an effective rule of law structure and is made subject to its discipline’ (p. 7). He argues that since multinational and transnational corporations in the wake of globalization have become dominant economically and politically they should be described as state actors. P. Chidambaram addresses the difference between rule of law and rule by law. ‘Under rule of law, howsoever high you may be, the law is above you while under rule by law, a small section of the people arrogates ...

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