May 6, 2021

Do ‘Law’ and ‘Justice’ have different Meanings?

Law is commonly understood as a set of rules which is created and enforced by social or government institutions to regulate the conduct. It is described as a science and the art of justice. Anciently the law and order were conducted through the way of morality and religion. But after long debate between philosophers and legal scholars it was decided that there must be human made laws to regulate the human relations. The laws are always made by the powerful ones favouring themselves, it is not necessary that they are just in nature. The laws have sanctions which are recognised by the state and enforced by state-authorised bodies. They vary from country to country. There is also body for international laws, applied only to those states who are signatories to the treaties and conventions. As every country has its own laws, national laws they are the set of rules made by the government or legislative body and once established they are enforced by the governmental authorities and interpreted by the judiciary.

Laws are important for the society to progress. It keep checks on all the three organs of the government. No, one is superior than law. If there is no law in the society, society will be chaotic and there will be conflicts in between social groups and communities. It put up the guidelines how the society should behave. It adopts itself with the changing society. It acts as an agent with the changing society and modernization. If we look back it has act as an instrument for societal change, it has abolished various age old practices like- untouchability, sati pratha, child marriage, castesim, etc.

Law certainly has acted as a catalyst in the process of social transformation of people wherein the dilution of caste inequalities, protective measures for the weak and vulnerable sections, providing for the dignified existence of those living under unwholesome conditions etc. are the illustrious examples in this regard. Moreover, after independence, the Constitution of India provided far-reaching guidelines for change. Its directive principle suggested a blueprint for a new nation.

The main objective of law is to bring law and order in the society. If anyone disobey the law, then penalty will be imposed by the government. If it is not enforceable, it is not a law.

The term justice is derived from the Latin term ‘Jungere’ which means to bind together. The key ailment that ties or bind together individuals in the society, is the justice. Concept of justice is as old as origin and growth of human society. Justice is need to be seen with a wider prospective, it basically resembles with the idea of morality.

Various philosophers have attempted to provide meaning to the word justice:

According to Blackstone “Justice is a reservoir from where the concept of right, duty, and equity evolves.”

In the Republic of Justice by Plato he gave basis of justice as what was right both in conduct of individual and State.

According to Aristotle, justice was what was fair and equitable. Thus Plato believed in distributive justice as compared to corrective justice advocated by Aristotle.

The Constitution of India in its basic structure includes the preamble which concerns about-

  • Justice
  • Liberty
  • Equality
  • Integrity
  • Dignity

Notion of justice depends upon the interpretation of the Constitution. Constitution mainly talks about mainly three types of justice-

  • Social justice,
  • Economic justice
  • and Legal justice

which are part of the ‘Doctrine of Distributive justice’ which is based on the two important points:

  • firstly, equal distribution, not only of, resources and materials, but rights, duties and liabilities also and
  • secondly, Justice is a phenomenon, not only for people, who govern, but also for who are governed.

The Justice is to guide the reflection of the citizen when we consider questions of Economic and Social policy. As per Amartya Sen in his book ‘The idea of Justice’ Doctrine of Political economy must include an interpretation of the public good which is based on a conception of Justice. The theory of justice, that can serve as the basis of practical reasoning must include ways of judging how to reduce injustice and advance justice, rather than aiming only at the characterization of perfectly just societies- and exercise that is such a dominant feature of many theories of justice in political philosophy today. Justice is not a matter of reasoning at all; it is one of being appropriately sensitive and having a right nose for injustice.

As per HLA Hart, justice is far more complicated because of the shifting standard of relevant resemblance between different cases incorporated in it, is also varies with the type of subject to which it is applied.

The goal of law is to reach the justice. SALMOND puts it ”Law is an instrument of society, what then does the law aim to achieve is justice.” All the concepts of morality cannot be acclaimed to be justice unless they are second by the law.

HEINRICH ROMMAN has defined law as instrument to promote justice. According to him, “Law is based on reason and not mere will men must do that is fair and law must promote justice.”

Aristotle stated ”the true relation between Law and Government is secured by malting the law sovereign and the government its servant.”

The aim of justice as per ARISTOTLE is giving each man with his just due providing equality of opportunity and equal treatment to equals. It also aims at punishing criminal or providing restitution and remedies for civil wrongs. Jurisprudence thus acts as a connecting nexus between “Natural Justice” means what is based on human nature at all times and “Legal Justice” means what the state gives to its subjects.

Justice is a metaphysical value, the moral will to make things right. Without it, we feel the situation is out of balance. Of course, our idea of justice may differ from somebody else’s idea of what justice is in a particular situation. We had tyrants that made lots of oppresive rules, these rules are the Law, that does not mean that they are good for anyone, they are systems people are supposed to follow in order to make good citizens. When this is abused, they are too restrictive and try to make people completely submissive, at that point, people would demand justice.

In a system where rules are just, justice is achieved, since the outcome is the most “just”.

If a ruthless and cruel tyrant is overthrown, the rule of Law is broken, people broke the rules they were supposed to obey, still, justice was made.

The mere fact that a law is proclaimed or enacted as a law by a government does not mean that it is just law. And there are a number of laws that contradict with natural law and justice. For example apartheid law was a law that was against the law of nature and entitles rights based on the color of human beings. It was totally against the law of nature and justice.


The terms “law” and “justice” refer to two similar yet different concepts. The ideas of law and justice often go hand-in-hand but refer to two different ideas. Law is a system of regulations, standards, principles and norms created by a country’s government in order to regulate the life and the actions of the citizens. Laws are found in written codes and are enforced by the government and its bodies, including security forces, police, judiciary, etc. Conversely, justice is a more abstract concept based on the idea of equality of rights, and fairness. All laws should be based on the idea of justice and should be implemented and enforced in a just way without discrimination of sex, gender, age, color, race, religion, language or any other status.

Contributed by: Ankita Sharma (Faculty of Law, University of Delhi)

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