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The governments production, implementation and enforcement of laws has important implications for the behavior of citizens. The philosophical assumptions behind the writing of laws, and the role science has in underpinning arguments for their adoption, is of importance to psychologists, as are the principles of law enforcement and the treament of defendents, offenders and victims.


2005 map of Worldwide Governance Indicators, which attempts to measure the extent to which agents have confidence in and abide by the rules of society. Colors range from green (top quartile), to yellow (middle high), orange (middle low) and red (bottom quartile).

In 1959, an international gathering of over 185 judges, lawyers, and law professors from 53 countries, meeting in New Delhi and speaking as the International Commission of Jurists, made a declaration as to the fundamental principle of the rule of law. This was the Declaration of Delhi. They declared that the rule of law implies certain rights and freedoms, that it implies an independent judiciary, and that it implies social, economic and cultural conditions conducive to human dignity. The Declaration of Delhi did not, however, suggest that the rule of law requires legislative power to be subject to judicial review.[1]

In the twenty-first century, the rule of law has been considered as one of the key dimensions that determines the quality and good governance of a country.[2] Research, like the Worldwide Governance Indicators, defines the rule of law as: "the extent to which agents have confidence and abide by the rules of society, and in particular the quality of contract enforcement, the police and the courts, as well as the likelihood of crime or violence."[3] Based on this definition the Worldwide Governance Indicators project has developed aggregate measurements for the rule of law in more than 200 countries.

The influential political theorist Joseph Raz identified several principles that may be associated with the rule of law in different societies.[4] Raz's principles encompass the requirements of guiding the individual's behaviour and minimizing the danger that results from the exercise of discretionary power in an arbitrary fashion, and in this last respect he shares common ground with the constitutional theorists A. V. Dicey, Friedrich Hayek and E. P. Thompson. Some of the most important of Raz's principles are as follows:

  • That laws should be prospective rather than retroactive.
  • Laws should be stable and not changed too frequently, as lack of awareness of the law prevents one from being guided by it.
  • There should be clear rules and procedures for making laws.
  • The independence of the judiciary has to be guaranteed.
  • The principles of natural justice should be observed, particularly those concerning the right to a fair hearing.
  • The courts should have the power to judicial review the way in which the other principles are implemented.
  • The courts should be accessible; no man may be denied justice.
  • The discretion of law enforcement and crime prevention agencies should not be allowed to pervert the law.

According to Raz, the validity of these principles depends upon the particular circumstances of different societies, whereas the rule of law generally "is not to be confused with democracy, justice, equality (before the law or otherwise), human rights of any kind or respect for persons or for the dignity of man".[4]

Sound psychological principles underpin much of what was agreed.

Clinical psychology and psychiatry and the law

Laws in various juridictions provide a context within which mental health professionals work.

See also


  • Appelbaum PS (1994) Almost a Revolution: Mental Health Law and the Limits of Change.
  • Appelbaum PS, Gutheil TG (2006). Clinical Handbook of Psychiatry and the Law, 4th ed, Lippincott/Williams & Wilkins, Philadelphia, PA, USA,
  • Berg JW, Appelbaum PS, Lidz CW, Parker L (2001). Informed Consent: Legal Theory and Clinical Practice, 2nd ed, Oxford University Press, New York, NY, USA,
  • Grisso T, Appelbaum PS: Assessing Competence To Consent To Treatment: A Guide for Physicians and Other Health Professionals . 1998
  1. Goldsworth, Jeffrey. “Legislative Sovereignty and the Rule of Law" in Sceptical Essays on Human Rights, page 69 (Tom Campbell, Keith D. Ewing, Adam Tomkins eds. Oxford University Press 2001).
  2. Governance Matters VI: Governance Indicators for 1996-2006
  3. A Decade of Measuring the Quality of Governance.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Raz, Joseph. "The Rule of Law and It's Virtue", The Law Quarterly Review, volume 93, page 195 (1977); reprinted by Culver, Keith. Readings in the Philosophy of Law, page 13 (Broadview Press, 1999).