Equality before the law – What it is, definition and concept

Equality before the law is a principle that guarantees that all people are treated in the same way by the law. Not only are the laws the same for everyone, but so is the entire legal process.

Equality before the law is a necessary guarantee in any rule of law, and implies non-discrimination in any legal process. That is, the external factors of the person are not evaluated, such as status, income, wealth, job or ethnicity or origin. If a person commits a crime, he or she will be judged for what was done in it, without taking into account the above factors.

This principle is basic in any democratic and legal state. If equality before the law is not guaranteed in the legal system, normally in the constitution, the application of the law and the legal process are left to the arbitrariness of the rulers or those in charge of imparting justice.

Now there are some exceptions to this principle. As is the case of the rulers, graduates or some sentences handed down to certain personalities. The figure of judicial bail could also be admitted to debate.

Origin of equality before the law

Equality before the law, although we see antecedents in ancient Greece, began to develop in the eighteenth century, hand in hand with liberal philosophers such as John Locke.

Locke was the promoter of individual rights that recognized the individual, his protection and development as a pillar of law. Equality before the law is an extension of these rights and of the liberal concept of equality, which implies the recognition that no person is inferior to another, therefore, they must be treated in equal terms.

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At the state level, the principle is consolidated after the Independence of the United States and after the outbreak of the French Revolution. The traditional privilege enjoyed by the aristocracy in the Old Regime is ended and the figure of the ordinary citizen is extolled. The liberal revolutions experienced throughout Europe in the nineteenth century were to extend this principle.

Another great leap in this direction was the abolition of slavery, carried out in many countries throughout the 19th century. Since, until now, many people were considered as merchandise and kept under inhuman conditions.

Finally, the adoption of democracy and law as inalienable principles of the State has been fundamental for the existence of this guarantee.

Regulation of equality before the law

As we mentioned at the beginning, equality before the law is reflected in the different legal systems of different countries. Thus ensuring that all legal proceedings are subject to this principle.

In some countries we find it as follows:

  • Colombia: Article 13 of the Constitution says that “All people are born free and equal before the law, they will receive the same protection and treatment from the authorities (…) without any discrimination”.
  • Ecuador: “All people are equal and will enjoy the same rights, duties and opportunities” (Article 11 of the Constitution). Here is a long list of reasons why you cannot be discriminated against.
  • Argentina: The Argentine Constitution establishes the principle in its article 16. “The Argentine Nation does not admit prerogatives of blood, nor of birth. (…) All its inhabitants are equal before the law ”.
  • Spain: Article 14 of the Constitution states that “Spaniards are equal before the law, without any discrimination being able to prevail.”
  • Mexico: The Mexican Constitution recognizes it indirectly. Its first article indicates respect for human rights, and equality before the law is article 7 of these rights.
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Restrictions on equality before the law

There are some assumptions in which this equality is quite questioned. This causes an effect of disenchantment among citizens, since they see that this principle is not absolute and some can benefit from certain positions of privilege.

Let’s see some examples:

  • Aforement: This is a situation for which the gauge is judged, if appropriate, by a court other than the ordinary ones. In the case of Spain, it is the Supreme Court. It is a privilege based on the position held. This can lead to favorable treatment in the penalties imposed. Very few States include this figure.
  • Inviolability: It assumes that a person cannot be judged. In Spain, the figure of the king is protected by article 56 of the Constitution.
  • Judicial bond: Bail, sometimes, we find it in the debate about equality before the law. It consists in that a person in provisional prison can pay a certain amount of money and leave it. But, if he is convicted, obviously, he must enter to serve his sentence. In order to access the deposit, a series of conditions must be met.

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