Commmon Meanings

In a broad, more general sense, but applied to law, a rule is a “a law or principle that operates within a particular sphere of knowledge, describing or prescribing what is possible or allowable”(1), or “control of or dominion over an area or people”.(2)

Legal Meanings

The word rule has a wide range of meanings in the law. In general, it is a statement of legal duty (of what a person may do or not do according to law).

The statement is generally derived from the sources of law (including academic sources), as settled principles of substantive law. But sometimes the statement is derived from a writing called “rule”, as the procedural “rules”used by courts to administer justice (rules of criminal procedure, for example).

In court cases, the rule has a general meaning, addressing the actuation of a Tribuntal in “settling a legal question.When a court rules, the decision is called a ruling.”(3)

For some writers, like John Bouvier, a rule is a metaphor for the sum of the (writteh and customary) law that is interpreted to be the basis for finding the obligation.

Narrower Meanings and Several Types of Rules

In some cases, the rule is part of a larger set of obligations that regulate a specialized activity. This is the case, for example, the navigation rules of the road, the rules of professional conduct or the rules of procedure.

Rules of Procedure

Tribunals in all jurisdictions have many procedural rules that dictate how the judiciary should works, and they also interpret their applicability. For example, rules of evidence offer direction in relation with what the courts may allow the parties bring, into evidence, at a trial.

In some countries, like the United States, Courts have the legal capacity to promulgate such rules (see local rules below). In the U.S., the large number of U.S. government agencies with power of issue rules has led to a very large number of rules in existence.

Rule According to Law

One of the most basic principles in the western legal systems is the rule of law. The rule of law, in a broad meaning, provides that all persons will be judged by a neutral and impartial judge (or another authority, when applicable) and that no one will receive special treatment, and that no person may be prosecuted for an act that is not punishable by law. The application of this idea requires the government to exercise its power in accordance with clearly rules (law and jurisprudence basically). The concept of rule of law is an essential component of democratic idea of a legitimate legal system.

For an entry about the rule of law, click here. As an intrinsic component of the rule of law, see also the principle of due process of law.

Letter Ruling

In the United States, it is a written interpretation of certain provisions of federal statutes by the U.S. tax authorities (Internal Revenue Service or IRS). It has similarities with the Tax ruling applied in other countries, like The Netherlands. For example, in The Netherlads there is the 30% reimbursement ruling (the 30% ruling) is a tax advantage for foreign employees working in the Netherlands. In South Africa there is the Advance Tax Ruling (ATR). In Singapur there is the Income Tax Advance Ruling, a written interpretation of the Singapore Income Tax Act in relation to how certain issues that arise from an arrangement are to be treated for tax purposes.

Exclusionary Rule

In the United States, the exclusionary rule allows a criminal defendant to prevent illegal searches or prosecutions that violate the rights set forth in the U.S. Fourth Amendment by introducing at trial evidence against the criminal defendant’s constitutional rights.

The primary purpose of the Exclusionary Rule “is to deter future unlawful police conduct and thereby effectuate the guarantee of the Fourth Amendment against unreasonable searches and seizures.”(United States v. Calandra (1974); Illinois v. Krull (1987); People v. Robles (2000)). “‘[T]he “prime purpose”of the [exclusionary] rule, if not the sole one, “is to deter future unlawful police conduct.”(People v. Sanders (2003))

It is also the purpose of the Fourth Amendment to “safeguard the privacy and security of individuals against arbitrary invasions by government officials.”(Camera v. Municipal Court (1967))

There are several exclusionary rules. The rule against hearsay, exclude evidence because it is not very reliable. The rule prohibiting a witness from testifying if the calling party did not disclose the witness before trial, are sanctions for the failure to comply with a nonconstitutional rule. In the last years, this remedy has been significantly limited by the Herring case.

Legal Rule

Law is an organized group or system of rules. In legal theory, a law is a rule. According to the British philosopher HLA Hart (“The Concept of Law”, 1961), there are two major forms of rules: primary rules and secundary rules. See more in the respective entries.

Rules Against Perpetuities

The rule against perpetuities (RAP) relates to some limitations in the way the property may be given. See an entry about the the exclusionary rule here. See also Perpetuitiy, Fertile Octogenarian and the Rule Against Remoteness.

Interpretative Rules

This type of rule provides direction in applying a statute or rule. Despite being applied quite strictly as a rule of construction in some cases, in general is not considered a source of law, and it is applied with greater flexibility.

Local Rules

In some jurisdictions, a rule adopted by a single court applicable only to such court. A violaton of a local rule is often treated by that court as contempt. Local rules may adapt more general rules of procedure. It should be not confussed with a court rule (or a rule of court).

Rule of Convenience

See Class of Descendants and Class Gift Rule.

Rule of Lenity

See Lenity.

Rule of Reason in Interpretation

See Interpretation and Statutory Interpretation.

Rule in Shelley’s Case

See Rule in Shelley’s Case.


By “rule” Anthony D’Amato (in his article “Legal Uncertainty”, 71 Cal. L. Rev. 1 (1983)) means not only a particular rule of law, but also any principle, policy, theory, or other legal argument that can be cited by a party or potential party to a case as a reason why the judge or other
official decisionmaker should decide the case in favor of that party.

Rules, Membership

From the book The Clergyman’s Hand-book of Law, about Rules, Membership (1): Every denomination has the right to prescribe by rules, its constitution, or its by-laws, the conditions of membership; and any one who will not subscribe to and practise the doctrines of the denomination is not a member.211

United States, Rules

From the book The Clergyman’s Hand-book of Law, about United States, Rules (1): In the United States courts, the rule prevails that such confidential communications to a priest shall not be divulged.406

Coming and Going Rule


See Also

  • Presidency
  • Executive Power


See Also

  • Political Economy
  • Public Policy


See Also

  • Going and coming rule


Notes and References

  1. Charles M. Scanlan, The Clergyman’s Hand-book of Law. The Law of Church and Grave (1909), Benziger Brothers, New York, Cincinnati, Chicago

See Also

  • Religion
  • Church


Notes and References

  1. Charles M. Scanlan, The Clergyman’s Hand-book of Law. The Law of Church and Grave (1909), Benziger Brothers, New York, Cincinnati, Chicago

See Also

  • Religion
  • Church



1. “rule.”The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. 2009.
2. “rule.”The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. 2009.
3. “Rule.”West’s Encyclopedia of American Law. 2005.

About the Author

Salvador Trinxet Llorca

See Also

Further Reading

  • Cass, Ronald. 2001. The Rule of Law in America. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.
  • Dicey, Albert Venn. [1895] 1982. Introduction to the Study of the Law of the Constitution. Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund.
  • Oakeshott, Michael. 1983. On History and Other Essays. New York: Barnes and Noble.
  • Scalia, Antonin. 1989. The Rule of Law as a Law of Rules. University of Chicago Law Review 56: 1175-1188.
  • Shklar, Judith N. 1998. Political Thought and Political Thinkers. Chicago: Chicago University Press.
  • Cass, Ronald A. 2001. The Rule of Law in America. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press.
  • Hamilton, Alexander, James Madison, and John Jay. 1787-88. The Federalist Papers. Reprint, edited by Gary Wills, New York: Bantam Books, 1988.
  • Komesar, Neil K. 2001. Law’s Limits: The Rule of Law and the Supply and Demand of Rights. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.
  • Michener, Roger, ed. 1995. The Balance of Freedom: Political Economy, Law, and Learning. New York: Paragon House.
  • Pilon, Roger. 2000. The Rule of Law in the Wake of Clinton. Washington, D.C.: Cato Institute.
  • Scalia, Antonin. 1989. “The Rule of Law as a Law of Rules.”University of Chicago Law Review 56.
  • Sirica, John. J. 1979. To Set the Record Straight: The Break-In, the Tapes, the Conspirators, the Pardon. New York: Norton.
  • Smith, Steven. 1995. “Nonsense and Natural Law.”Southern California Interdisciplinary Law Journal 4.
  • Stoner, James. 1992. Common Law and Liberal Theory. Lawrence: Univ. Press of Kansas.
  • Wood, Diane P. 2003. “The Rule of Law in Times of Stress.”University of Chicago Law Review 70.