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What is a rule of law?

A rule of law is a state in which citizens are protected from the power of the state. This means that whoever is in power cannot just hand out punishments as they please but that everything is laid down in laws beforehand. Whether those laws are followed is judged by independent judges. The rule of law thus ensures legal certainty and equality before the law. In other words, as a resident you can be sure that laws are always applied in the same way for everyone. So in a rule of law, laws also apply not only to the people but also to its rulers. If these rulers abuse their power, they can be held accountable by the law.

An essential element of a rule of law is thus the principle of legality: no punishment without law. Moreover, that punishment must be pronounced by an independent judge. Who is obliged to look at the circumstances of both parties and treat them equally. In addition, the judge must give reasons for his sentence or judgment and explain how he arrived at a certain decision, for example on the basis of certain articles of law. Only after that fair trial can a defendant be declared (un)guilty.

The role of a lawyer

It is important to note that the rule of law and democracy do not necessarily mean the same thing.

In a democracy, citizens somehow help choose who holds power and how it is governed. Citizens therefore have confidence in who they themselves have elected.

A rule of law, as described above, means that power in a state is determined, regulated and limited by laws. It is based on the premise of organised distrust of government, namely that we should impose rules on government through laws so that we can trust them and that judges are allowed to control them. That distrust is also necessary because power can be abused and government arbitrariness must be prevented. That is why there are rules by which those powers are bound, by which (investigating) judges must abide, rules that apply equally to everyone and thus must guarantee (legal) security. If we were to drop this protection for specific cases such as, for example, judging much harder on a child rapist, then exceptions could be created at other times as well and we would no longer have (legal) certainty.

have not only the task but also the duty to ensure that the certainty offered by law is respected, no matter whom they defend. They act from their own independence and impartiality as a counterweight to the power and in this way also help guarantee an impartial and independent judiciary. Although a lawyer only has to defend his client's personal interests, he thus also defends this larger idea.

A lawyer is therefore independent from politicians, authorities and magistrates. This independence exists because there are a number of (exceptional) rights that the lawyer can make use of when doing his job. A lawyer represents his client's interests and must therefore be biased . In addition, the lawyer is also independent from his own client. This, in turn, is a security for the government. After all, if a lawyer compromises his duty of independence, he is liable to disciplinary action. The lawyer is thus limited by certain deontological and disciplinary rules. More so, there are few professions where practitioners are constantly and so closely monitored and judged.

The lawyer's job must therefore be understood within the framework of the rule of law. Although the defence that the lawyer conducts may not always seem to be in line with the public's sense of justice, the lawyer does pursue only justice and the correct application of the law for his client. After all, the lawyer is the most important actor in guaranteeing equal access to justice and the right to a fair trial. He also forces the judiciary to handle errors carefully, so that our fundamental rights are not violated and so that procedural errors that may have a potential impact on the outcome are limited.