Law, Justice and Morality

Justice and morality are commonly used in law. Although they are all a part of the same system and have many common factors, it cannot be ignored that they imply different meanings in the legal term. Before understanding the inter-relationship of law justice and morality, it is necessary to understand their personal meaning.

Law, Justice and Morality

Morals as an end of the law and thus there is a relationship between law, justice and morality. Most jurists say that the end of the law is to secure ‘justice’. Justice has more or less been defined in the terms of ‘morals’. Thus the law is used to give an idea of both morals and justice.

What is Law?

Meaning of Law: – The law is legislation created and enforced through social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior, with its precise definition a matter of longstanding debate. Law is a rule made by a government that states how people may and may not behave in society and in business, and that often orders particular punishments if they do not obey, or a system of such rulesIt has been variously described as a science and the art of justice. Until now, there is no definition that is universally accepted. Jurists have tried to define it on the basis of ‘source’, ‘effect’, ‘purpose’, ‘nature’ and other factors. Law are the rules which are enforced by society. Violations may bring a loss of or reduction in freedom and possessions.

Society is one of the major factors in explaining the law. The law tells people what they should and should not do. For example, the law tells people that they should not hurt people and that they will be punished if they do so. In the same way, even society tells us what to do, for example, respect elders.

Law is a social science and in order to keep up with change in society it has to change because there can be no right definition of law due to ever changing society. To give the definition of law, various legal concepts should be analyzed such as sociology, political science, history, psychology, economics, with an element of logic and practicality to meet the ends of justice.

Various Definitions of Law

There are broadly five definitions of Law such as: –

  1. Natural School: – In the natural school of thought, a court of justice decides all the laws. There are two main parts of this definition. One, to actually understand a certain law, an individual must be aware of its purpose. Secondly, to comprehend the true nature of law, one must consult the courts and not the legislature.
  1. Positivistic Definition of Law: –
    • John Austin’s law definition states “Law is the aggregate set of rules set by a man as politically superior, or sovereign to men, as political subjects.” Thus, this definition defines law as a set of rules to be followed by everyone,  regardless of their stature (status).
    • Hans Kelsen created the ‘pure theory of law’. Kelsen states that law is a ‘normative science’. In Kelson’s law definition, the law does not seek to describe what must occur, but rather only defines certain rules to abide by.
  1. Historical Law Definition: – Friedrich Karl von Savigny gave the historical law definition. His law definition states the following theories: –
    • Law is a matter of unconscious and organic growth.
    • The nature of law is not universal. Just like language, it varies with people and age.
    • Custom not only precedes legislation but it is superior to it. Law should always conform to the popular consciousness because of customs.
    • Law has its source in the common consciousness (Volkgeist) of the people.
    • The legislation is the last stage of lawmaking, and, therefore, the lawyer or the jurist is more important than the legislator.
  1. Sociological Definition of Law: –
    • Leon Duguit states that law as “essentially and exclusively as a social fact.”
    • Rudolph Von Ihering’s law definition: – “The form of the guarantee of conditions of life of society, assured by State’s power of  constraint.” This definition has three important parts. One, the law is a means of social control. Two, the law is to serve the purposes of the society. Three, law due to its nature, is coercive.
    • Roscoe Pound studied the term law and thus came up with his own law definition. He considered the law to be predominantly a tool of social engineering. Where conflicting pulls of political philosophy, economic interests, and ethical values constantly struggled for recognition. Against a background of history, tradition and legal technique. Social wants are satisfied by law acting which is acting as a social institution.
  1. Realist Definition of Law: – The realist law definition describes the law in terms of judicial processes. 
    • Oliver Wendell Holmes stated: – “Law is a statement of  the circumstances in which public force will be brought to bear upon through courts.”
    • According to Benjamin Nathan Cardozo who stated “A principle or rule of conduct so established as to justify a prediction with reasonable certainty that it will be enforced by the courts if its authority is challenged, is a principle or rule of law.”

As per the above law definitions, human behavior in the society is controlled with the help of law. It aids in the cooperation between members of a society. Law also helps to avoid any potential conflict of interest and also helps to resolve them.

What is Justice?

Meaning of Justice: – The term justice has been derived from the Latin word ‘Jungere’ which means to bind or tie together, thus in this way it can be stated as justice is the key element which ties the individuals in the society together and harmonizes a balance between them and enhances human relation. Justice means following of norms (customs). Justice stands for just conduct, fairness or exercise of authority in maintenance or right. Therefore, justice generally means the recognition, application and enforcement of laws by courts. Justice is ideally representing something that is just and right. It basically means being just, impartial, fair and right. What is just may depend on the context, but its requirement is essential to the idea of justice.

For example, the natural law school of jurisprudence believes that justice means the implementation of religious laws. On the other hand, modern jurisprudence says justice means the implementation of concepts like equality and liberty. However, in both these examples, justice means enforcement of what the law perceives to be right.

Society demands that people should live in peace in the society. While in society we experience a conflict of interest and expect other people to behave rightly in the society. But on the contrary, people are very selfish by nature, and may not be fair to others.

Thus it is necessary that there should be some external power which is necessary to maintain the society. Salmond and Roscoe Pound made more emphasis on the importance of justice in their definition of law. For salmond without justice, an orderly society is unimaginable.

Blackstone: – Justice is a reservoir from which the concept of rights, duties and equity develops.

The essence of legal justice lies in ensuring uniformity and certainty of law as well as ensuring that rights and duties are duly respected by the people. Justice ensures fairness. One should not be just for themselves but towards all members of society as well.

Kinds of Justice

The concept of justice and its administration can be of the following types: –

  1. Public Justice and Private Justice: –
    • Public justice is basically that kind of justice which the state administers through its tribunals and courts. It explains the relationship between courts and citizens of a state. Courts usually enforce laws that states make under public justice.
    • On the other hand, private justice regulates the legal relationship between individuals. It is limited to people enforcing concepts of justice amongst each other without approaching courts.
    • For example, let’s imagine that A and B entered into a business transaction in which A paid money to B as promised. B, instead of selling goods to A for the money, refused to fulfill his obligation. If A and B decide to settle their dispute through means of arbitration or negotiation, it is private justice. However, if A approaches a court and sues B, we refer to that as public justice.
  1. Civil Justice and Criminal Justice: –
    • In terms of the subject matters of justice, we can categorize it as civil and criminal. Civil justice generally refers to private wrongs that affect specific people or entities.
    • For example, breach of a contract between two parties will affect only one of them. Trespassing of property is another example. In order to get justice in case of civil wrong a person should approach civil courts.
    • Criminal justice, on the other hand, affects society in general even if specific people are victims. For example, the murder affects specific victims only but the law treats it as a crime against society.
    • Another feature of criminal justice is that it relates to laws made by a legislature. Only acts that are defined as crimes can be the subject matter of criminal justice.
  1. Social Justice: – Social justice is another name for equal social rights. Social Justice aims to provide equal opportunities to every individual to develop his inherent qualities. In contemporary times a large number of scholars use prefer to describe the concept of Justice as Social Justice. Social Justice is taken to mean that all the people in a society are to be equal and there is be no discrimination on the basis of religion, caste, creed, colour, sex or status. Social democrats and modern liberal thinkers define social justice as the attempt to reconstruct the social order in accordance with moral principles. Attempts are to be continuously made to rectify social injustice. It also stands for a morally just and defensible system of distribution of reward and obligations in society without any discrimination or injustice against any person or class of persons.
  1. Economic Justice: – Economic Justice is indeed closely related to social justice because economic system is always an integral part of the social system. Economic rights and opportunities available to an individual are always a part of the entire social system. Economic justice demands that all citizens should have adequate opportunities to earn their livelihood and get fair wages as can enable they to satisfy their basic needs and help them to develop further. The state should provide them economic security during illness, old age and in the event of a disability.
  1. Political Justice: – Political justice means giving equal political rights and opportunities to all citizens to take part in the administration of the country. Citizens should have the right to vote without any discrimination on the basis of religion, colour, caste, creed, sex, birth or status. Every citizen should have an equal right to vote and to contest elections. Legal justice has two dimensions-the formulation of just laws and then to do justice according to the laws. While making laws, the will of the rulers is not to be imposed upon the ruled. Laws should be based on public opinion and public needs. Social values, morality, conventions, the idea of just and unjust must be always kept in view.

What is Morality?

Meaning of Morality: – Tort Law started just from the morality of the society and has some moral values as its underpinnings. In its most basic terms, the source of tort law is to shield society from chaos and pandemonium by establishing a court in which one individual can bring a claim against another, without resorting to private revenge.Like the morals of society construes that no person should do anything wrong with anyone and if he has done anything wrong, then he must be punished, just to get the victim back to a decent position.

In ancient times, there was no difference between law, justice and morality. In Hindu law, there was Smriti and Vedas. In the name of ‘natural rights’ the Greeks laid the theoretical moral foundation of the law. The recognition of moral laws is done by Romans on the basis of ‘natural law’. In the middle Ages, churches came to power and Christian morality was considered the basis of law.

Law, Justice and Morality

Bentham said “Law has just the same centre as morals but it has by no means the same circumference.”

The modern trend in morality:

  1. Strong distinction made between Laws and Morals by Analytical school in 19th Century.
  2. John Austin maintained that law has nothing to do with morals.
  3. The analytical school believed that all considerations including morals should be separated from the study of law.
  4. But analytical school did not refuse to accept the existence of morality.
  5. This school just did not agree on the fact that morals and law are the same thing. Austin differentiates law and morality as ‘positive law’ and ‘positive morality’.

Law and Justice in Modern Society

“Justice by law” is the modern view of justice in society. Dicey called this theory “the rule of law”. This includes that everyone is equal before the law and there should be no arbitrariness and the law should be equally applicable to all without any discrimination. ‘No one is above the law’.

  1. Civil Justice: – Citizens can enforce and protect their legal civil rights and resolve disagreements between two or more parties through the civil justice system. The system ensures the protection of rights rather than punishment.
  1. Criminal Justice: – The main purpose of criminal justice is to punish the offender. It is the state that punishes the offender. The objective of criminal justice is to punish the criminal and create an example in the society so that there is no crime. Punishment is to set an example for the society just to show the citizens of the state that the same will happen to them if they do not follow the law. There are four principles of punishment: –
    1. Deterrent: – To set an example in society.
    2. Retributive: – one eye for one eye and one tooth for one tooth
    3. Preventive: – Preventing the offender from repeating the crime through measures such as imprisonment, capital punishment.
    4. Reformative: – Reformation of criminals through method of individualization.

What is the difference between law and morality?

The difference between law and morality is as follows: –

1.Law is a system of rules that are applied in a particular country or community as regulating the actions of its members and it can be enforced by the imposition of penalties.Morality is a body of system of values and principles derived from the code of conduct..
2.The law is deliberately changed by Parliament and/or the courts.Morals cannot be intentionally changed, rather it develops slowly.
3.Sanctions are invariably imposed for violations of legal obligations.There is no official sanction for unethical behavior, although society often creates its own form of censorship.
4.Laws ust be followed as necessary for proper functioning of society.They are good in itself that’s why people follow them.

What is the relationship between Law and Morality?

Although there are many differences between law and morality, it should not be assumed that there is no similarity between law and morality. They have the same center but different circumferences. They are very closely related. It depends on the definition of law whether they will incorporate morality or not. Different definition of law is given by different schools.

The relationship between Law and Moral can be studied with 3 viewpoints: –

  1. Morality as the basis of law
  2. Morality as positive law test
  3. Morality as the end of law


  1. Morality as the Basis of Law:
    • Law and morals have a similar origin, but due to the course of development, they came apart. In earlier societies, there was no difference between law and morality. They had a common source and their approval was of the same nature.
    • Later, with the development of society and the formation of the state, it raised the rules that were necessary for the functioning of the state and enforced its own restrictions to enforce them. These rules are called ‘laws’.
    • The rules were for the ‘good’ of humanity, but the state could not ensure that their upbringing would remain as it was. These are called ‘morality’.
    • Thus it can be said that law and morality have the same origin, but there is divergence in their development. Many rules are common to both such as not killing a person, not stealing.
  1. Morality as a Positive Law Test:
    • In early times it was argued that law should be consistent with morality. It was supported by the Greeks and Romans. Later the churches came to power and said that if the law does not confirm to Christian law then it is invalid. When churches were removed from power, it was claimed that law and morality were different.
    • Law derives its authority from the state and not morality. In the 18th century ‘natural law’ theory was gaining popularity and had a moral foundation. It was re-considered that the law and the rules are the same. In the 19th century, Austin propounded his theory that morality had nothing to do with the law.
    • The law is the command of the sovereign supported by sanctions. In the 20th century, Kelsen stated that only legal norms are subject to jurisprudence. He excluded all other external things, including ethics, from the study of law.
    • Now it cannot be said that if the law does not confirm to morality then it is not binding. However, waking up more or less is in line with morality.
  1. Morality as the End of Law:
    • Ethics is often considered the end of law. Many jurists have defined the law on the basis of ‘Justice’ and thus there is a connection between law justice and morality.
    • Most of the jurists said that the objective of law is to secure justice. Justice is more or less defined as ‘morality’. Thus law is used to consider both morality and justice.

Case law under Law, Justice and Morality

  1. Queen vs. Dudley and Stephen’s Case: 14 Queens Bench Division 273 (1884)

Facts of the case: Defendant, Thomas Dudley (Mr. Dudley) and Edwin Stephens (Mr. Stephens) (Defendant), and two other gentlemen, Mr. Brooks and the victim, Richard Parker (Mr. Parker), sat on the boat for several days. When it was revealed that everyone would die of thirst and starvation, the defendants decided to sacrifice Mr. Parker for the good of the rest. A man who, in order to avoid starvation death, kills another to eat his flesh, is guilty of murder; However at the time of the act he is in such circumstances that he believes and has reasonable grounds to believe that it gives him the only chance to preserve his life.

Judgment of the case: In this case, the court applied the principle of ‘Ratio Decidendi’ which means one person cannot sacrifice another person’s life to save his or her own. And on these facts, there was no evidence of any necessity that could justify the prisoners in killing the boy and they were guilty of murder.

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