Find the word definition

rule of recognition

n. (context legal English) A notion of what should "count" as law.

Rule of recognition

A central part of H.L.A. Hart's theory on legal positivism, in any legal system, the rule of recognition is a master meta-rule underlying any legal system that defines the common identifying test for legal validity (or "what counts as law") within that system. He thus articulates its application: In Hart's view, the rule of recognition arises out of a convention among officials whereby they accept the rule's criteria as standards that empower and govern their actions as officials. The rule is cognizable from the social practices of officials acknowledging the rule as a legitimate standard of behavior, exerting social pressure on one another to conform to it, and generally satisfying the rule's requirements. To this end, as explained by Hart, the rule has three functions:

  1. To establish a test for valid law in the applicable legal system,
  2. To confer validity to everything else in the applicable legal system, and
  3. To unify the laws in the applicable legal system.

The validity of a legal system is independent from its efficacy. A completely ineffective rule may be a valid one - as long as it emanates from the rule of recognition. But to be a valid rule, the legal system of which the rule is a component must, as a whole, be effective. According to Hart, any rule that complies with the rule of recognition is a valid legal rule. For example, if the rule of recognition were "what Professor X says is law", then any rule that Professor X spoke would be a valid legal rule.

It follows that the rule of recognition is but a factual acknowledgement of what is indeed law; as per the classic illustration of a bill passed by the legislative authority and assented to by a Head-of-State. The fact that the bill has been made law in accordance with proper parliamentary procedure shall, in accordance with the Rule of Recognition, render it valid law. Again, this is primarily based on the fact of its existence in such manner.