Difference Between Illegal and Unlawful (With Table)

Both terms illegal and unlawful looks similar but it has many differences in their usage in sentences and also under the law. Illegal means any act which is specifically or explicitly forbidden by law and cannot be justified by any means whereas unlawful means any act going against what is allowed. Illegal necessarily means unlawful but all unlawful acts do not mean illegal.

Illegal vs Unlawful

The main difference between illegal and unlawful is an act is said to be unlawful if it violates the current law passed by the Statute or any other legislative authority whereas illegal activities don’t mean the breaking of the law but going against something which is not considered as an ethic or moral. The happening of illegal actions will lead to serious consequences and there are punishments decided by the Statue for the breaking of respective laws. The happening of unlawful actions might end up in serious action or punishment under a separate law.

Illegal is an act that is forbidden by law and in case of an illegal act, the law may impose strict punishments. The word “legal” is derived from the Latin word “legalis” signifying pertaining to law. Illegal is also an adjective that makes partial changes to both nouns or a pronoun. The prefix “il” means “not” and “legal” means pertaining to law. Together, the world illegal means “Not pertaining to the law or forbidden by law”.

Unlawful is an act that does not directly violate the law as there will be no separate law for such action but will be considered as unethical under the law. Unlawful also ends up in consequences but it comes under a separate law which will be decided by the respective court subjected to. This term “unlawful” is an old English word with the prefix “un” meaning no and together, it signifies not lawful.

Comparison Table Between Illegal and Unlawful

Parameters of Comparison IllegalUnlawful
Definition Forbidden by law formed by the Statue.Not authorized by law formed by the Statue.
Consequences of such an eventPunishment specified under breaking of respective laws.Punishment is decided by the court by a separate law.
ScopeIllegal necessarily means unlawful.Unlawful does not mean illegal.
FormationThe Latin word “legalis” means pertaining to law and the prefix “il” means not.Old English word
ExampleSale of prohibited drugs, jumping traffic lights, prosecution, etc.Unethical business practices, discrimination, etc.

What is Illegal?

Illegal is an act that is forbidden or prohibited by law formed by the Statue or any other legislative authority and happening of such unlawful events will result in serious consequences or punishments which will be specified under the breaking of respective laws.

Illegal is derived from the Latin word “legalis” which means pertaining to law or related to law and the prefix “il” means not. Altogether, illegal means not pertaining to the law or following the law. Illegal is an adjective that makes partial changes in nouns or pronouns.

For example, the sale of prohibited drugs, prosecution, murder, and all those civil wrongs will be considered illegal and is strictly punished under the law. For each illegal act, there are separate sections in the law that will conclude the punishments for every lawbreaker. In other words, illegal means committing an act that is explicitly considered unethical or unjustified by the law.

For any act to be considered illegal, there has to be a law necessarily passed by legislative authority or the Statue. Law not only includes the rules and regulations passed by the legislative authority of Parliament. The term “law” also includes Judicial precedents which mean previous court judgments which is not a part of existing law.

What is Unlawful?

Unlawful is an act that is not forbidden by law explicitly but considered immoral or unethical or implicitly forbidden by law and happening of such unlawful act might end up in serious consequences or punishments which will be decided by the court under a separate law.

The word “Unlawful” is derived from an old English word and the prefix “un” means not and together unlawful means not lawful. For any act to be considered unlawful, there must be no specific law formed by the statute or legislative authority. It will be decided by the court and consequences will fall under a separate law.

For example, any unethical business practices or discriminations are considered unlawful. Any unlawful act does not necessarily mean an illegal act. In other words, Unlawful is an act that is not authorized by the Statue or any other legislative authority.

There is an act specifically formed for the prevention of unlawful activities called The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967. This act is formed to prevent unlawful activities undertaken by businesses, natural persons or individuals and, legal persons, etc. In short, an unlawful act is an act that is contrary or opposition to the law implicitly.

Main Differences Between Illegal and Unlawful

  1. Illegal requires breaking of specific law while unlawful is just an act which is considered unethical or immoral by law formed by the Statue or any other legislative authority.
  2. Both are punishable. Illegal activities are punishable under specified existing law whereas unlawful activities are punished under separate laws decided by the court.
  3. Illegal activities necessarily mean unlawful whereas Unlawful do not necessarily mean illegal.
  4. Illegal is derived from the Latin word “legalis” and unlawful is an old English word.
  5. Examples of illegal activities are the sale of drugs, prosecution, or murder, and examples of unlawful activities are unethical business practices or discrimination, etc.

Conclusion

Illegal are acts that are forbidden or prohibited by law and unlawful are those acts that do not directly violate the law but it is considered unethical or immoral act by law. Both unlawful and illegal acts are strictly punishable under law. Illegal acts are punished under the respective laws broken whereas unlawful are punished under separate laws decided by the court.

All illegal activities are considered to be unlawful while all unlawful acts are not considered to be illegal. Unlawful is a wider term than illegal. Concluding, illegal acts are forbidden by law explicitly whereas unlawful acts are forbidden by law implicitly.

References

  1. https://heinonline.org/hol-cgi-bin/get_pdf.cgi?handle=hein.journals/mlr80&section=121

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