RIGHT TO EQUALITY: Equality before Law and Equal Protection of Laws

RIGHT TO EQUALITY

1. Equality before Law and Equal Protection of Laws

Article 14 says that the State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India. This provision confers rights on all persons whether citizens or foreigners. Moreover, the word ‘person’ includes legal persons, viz, statutory corporations, companies, registered societies or any other type of legal person.

The concept of ‘equality before law’ is of British origin while the concept of ‘equal protection of laws’ has been taken from the American Constitution. The first concept connotes: (a) the absence of any special privileges in favour of any person, (b) the equal subjection of all persons to the ordinary law of the land administered by ordinary law courts, and (c) no person (whether rich or poor, high or low, official or non-official) is above the law.

The second concept, on the other hand, connotes: (a) the equality of treatment under equal circumstances, both in the privileges conferred and liabilities imposed by the laws, (b) the similar application of the same laws to all persons who are similarly situated, and (c) the like should be treated alike without any discrimination. Thus, the former is a negative concept while the latter is a positive concept. However, both of them aim at establishing equality of legal status, opportunity and justice.

The Supreme Court held that where equals and unequals are treated differently, Article 14 does not apply. While Article 14 forbids class legislation, it permits reasonable classification of persons, objects and transactions by the law. But the classification should not be arbitrary, artificial or evasive. Rather, it should be based on an intelligible differential and substantial distinction.

Rule of Law The concept of ‘equality before law’ is an element of the concept of ‘Rule of Law’, propounded by A.V. Dicey, the British jurist. His concept has the following three elements or aspects:

    1. Absence of arbitrary power, that is, no man can be punished except for a breach of law.
    2. Equality before the law, that is, equal subjection of all citizens (rich or poor, high or low, official or non-official) to the ordinary law of the land administered by the ordinary law courts.
    3. The primacy of the rights of the individual, that is, the constitution is the result of the rights of the individual as defined and enforced by the courts of law rather than the constitution being the source of the individual rights.

The first and the second elements are applicable to the Indian System and not the third one. In the Indian System, the constitution is the source of the individual rights.

The Supreme Court held that the ‘Rule of Law’ as embodied in Article 14 is a ‘basic feature’ of the constitution. Hence, it cannot be destroyed even by an amendment.

Exceptions to Equality The rule of equality before law is not absolute and there are constitutional and other exceptions to it. These are mentioned below:

    1. The President of India and the Governor of States enjoy the following immunities (Article 361):
      1. The President or the Governor is not answerable to any court the exercise and performance of the powers and duties of office.
      2. No criminal proceedings shall be instituted or continued aga the President or the Governor in any court during his term office.
      3. No process for the arrest or imprisonment of the President or Governor shall be issued from any court during his term of offic
      4. No civil proceedings against the President or the Governor s be instituted during his term of office in any court in respect of act done by him in his personal capacity, whether before or a he entered upon his office, until the expiration of two months n after notice has been delivered to him.
    2. No person shall be liable to any civil or criminal proceedings in any court in respect of the publication in a newspaper (or by radio or television) of a substantially true report of any proceedings of either House of Parliament or either House of the Legislature of a State (Article 361-A).
    3. No member of Parliament shall be liable to any proceedings in any court in respect of anything said or any vote given by him in Parliament or any committee thereof (Article 105).
    4. No member of the Legislature of a state shall be liable to any proceedings in any court in respect of anything said or any vote given by him in the Legislature or any committee thereof (Article 194).
    5. Article 31-C is an exception to Article 14. It provides that the laws made by the state for implementing the Directive Principles contained in clause (b) or clause (c) of Article 39 cannot be challenged on the ground that they are violative of Article 14. The Supreme Court held that “where Article 31-C comes in, Article 14 goes out”.
    6. The foreign sovereigns (rulers), ambassadors and diplomats enjoy immunity from criminal and civil proceedings.
    7. The UNO and its agencies enjoy the diplomatic immunity.

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