This article has been written by Yash Dodani, a first-year student at NALSAR University of Law. He has tried to explain the similarities and differences between Law, Justice and Morality.

The three terms, viz, law, justice and morality are used interchangeably in terms of a common man. However, in legal terms, these terms are used differently. Although they have a similarity but they have differences too. We will try to understand the similarity and the differences. But let us first try to understand the meaning of all these terms separately to get more clarity in the parts where I will try to locate the similarity and the differences.


What is Law?

Now when everyone will try to find the definition of the term Law, we will face a lot of problem to find a concrete definition. Law is that vast area where the definition is next to impossible to be accepted by the universe as a single definition. Law can be anything from the written statutes to the unwritten rules that govern the behaviour of the society from the ancient times. However, the Jurists have tried to find a working definition of the Law by taking something as a base. And that thing can be ‘nature’, ‘source’, ‘effects’ etc.

The society plays a major role in shaping of the law. Laws can’t be made against the will of the society. If any law is made against the society, the society will resist the law and will try to disobey it. The laws are made by the society, and the law govern the society in the sense that the law tells the society what they should do and should not do as a part of society. The society also acts as a part of the law, mostly in the unwritten manner. There are various things which we should do according to the rules of society, and if we don’t do so, the society will look down to us. For example – respecting the elders is an unwritten rule, which is not told by any law but told to us by the society. 

Law is a social science which runs by the society. The law of any state cannot be rigid. It is because of the social changes by the time. There can be one offence at a particular time or place, but after some time, may it be a no offence? If the law is so rigid that it can’t accommodate itself with the changing society, that law is bad. If the law is so changing, there can’t be any concrete definition of the law. Hence the law can’t be defined by a single definition. To define law the analysis of various legal concepts against various disciplines like sociology, political science, history, psychology, economics is needed to be done with the element of logic and practicality, to meet the ends of justice.


The justice is a very age-old concept in the society. It can be done through law or without the law. When I say without the law, it means that justice can be administered without a law. The justice can be administered under the general principles of giving justice which are independent of the law. Every person is expected to live peacefully. Without the justice an orderly society is unthinkable. These lines were said by Salmond. Justice come up with rights, duties and equity which then after takes the shape of laws.

The justice ensures that there is a uniformity in the interpretation of the law [if any] and in absence, do justice to the innocent party in whatever way feels suitable. it expects everyone to be Impartial and just to others as well.

Justice in the Modern society

The modern law concept of justice is called as ‘Justice according to Law’. It implies that justice can be given without law as well. As various prominent authors have called it as ‘Rule of Law’. It also means that no one is above law. Law is the supreme rule in the modern society.

Civil Justice

The civil justice system involves the protection of rights in the first place and not the punishment. Just to give some sort of compensation, the court orders to give some amount of damages to the innocent parties. This ensures that they will refrain from committing the same wrong again.

Criminal Justice

The main aim of the criminal justice is to punish the offender. The crime is so harsh that if the offender is just asked to compensate the innocent party, it will not ensure that people will not commit the crime again and again.

There are various types of theories of punishment which were/are used by the courts in administrating justice and to reduce the crime.
1.Deterrent Theory
2.Preventive Theory
3.Reformative theory
4.Retributive theory
These are the punishments which are used to punish the offender
(For details on theories, visit my article on Theories of Punishment)


In the ancient time, there was no distinction between Law Justice and morality. In Hindu law, there were Smritis and Vedas. The Greeks in the name of ‘natural rights’ formulated a theoretical moral foundation of law. The Romans recognized moral laws based on ‘natural law’.  In middle age, churches came in power and Christian morals were considered as the basis of law.
The morals are nothing but established rules when the human life was made. It means that morals are the basic human rights. It also means that those abstract rights which are in the public interest.

The law derives its authorities from the supreme state and not the established morals. When the church was removed from the power, it was said that law and morals are different. Austin said in the 19th century that the law and morality are two different terms and the law has nothing to do with morality. But he being too positivist, forgot that there is a relation in the law and morals. But at the same time, they are not the same.

The Distinction between Law and Morals

Morals are not laws, but are an end in themselves. It is followed by the people because it helps in improving the character of an individual. After all, they are good to follow. There are acts which are morally correct but are wrong as per the law and vice versa. Morals are universal and are not affected by the state. Morals are more related to the individuals and not the group per se. Roscoe Pound said “ As to the application of moral principles and legal principles respectively, it is said that moral principles are of individual and relative application; they must be applied regarding circumstances and individuals, whereas legal rules are of general and absolute application

S.No. Law Morals
1 Tries to make society an Ideal one, but is dynamic Is an end in itself.
2 Related to the society and to make it ideal. Related to regulate individuals.
3 The conduct is looked
and punished.
They look into the motive to do act, that motive could be correct
4They are followed because the law is backed by
They are followed just because
it’s good for the individuals to
5State is responsible to
enforce it.
Individuals are left upon to
decide if they want to follow or

Relation between Law and Morals

There are indeed a lot of differences between the law and the morals, but it does not mean that there is no sort of similarity. They are very closely related to each other. The type of law will determine how important the morals are to that particular law.

  • Morals are used to make the laws.
  • Morals are used to test the positive laws.
  • Morals as the end of the law.

Starting point of law

The law and morals have the same origin but have different developments throughout the time. There were common things between law and morality. The sanctions which were charged due to breaking of the law or the morals were the same. But after some time, the state thought that some things should have more sanctions and confided things, and this came out to be ‘law’.

The ruled which were for the ‘good’ of humanity but the state could not ensure its observance were left as they were. These are called ‘moral’. Thus, it could be said that law and morals have a common origin, but diverge in their development. Many rules are common to both of them such as NOT killing a person, NOT stealing. 

Queen v/s Dudley and Stephen’s Case: 14 Queens Bench Division 273 (1884)

This is a very leading case in the English Law. This case features the need/necessity to commit an act to save the life of shipments. The facts are very interesting and the reasoning of the court is equally good. The defendants, in this case, were travelling in a ship to reach a particular purpose. However, in the middle of the journey, there was a thunder broke out and they were stuck in the sea. They stuck in so long that they ate their whole food and there was nothing left for them after some time. It was so worse that they were trying to however live somehow. But after some time, there was nothing at all left. With them, there was a boy of about 17 years old. That boy was sick and the other members of the ship thought that he is young and sick and might die anytime. And then they killed him and ate his flash. When they reached the destination, the police arrested him and charged for murder. The defendants took the defence of necessity.

The court held that the person can’t take the life of another to save his own life and was considered as morals. But the court decreased the punishment from death to life imprisonment.

Mr X v/s Hospital Z (1998) 8 SCC 296

Another interesting case on the front of morals, where the court again brought the similarity between the morals and the law. The facts were that a person had HIV+ he was about to marry a girl. But the hospital authorities gave the information of him being HIV+ to the girl whom he was about to marry. The boy filed a case against the hospital authorities and claimed that they should not have revealed the information without the consent of the boy. The hospital authorities claimed that they have done this on the moral grounds and hence they should not be held liable.

The court here held that the hospital authorities were not liable because the right of Ms A to be informed about the safety of her life will override the right of Mr X’s to privacy. The court said that in the public interest, there cannot be upheld of individual rights as it will be against the morals and not always law should be considered. The following lines were said.

“As a human being, Ms. ‘Y’ must also enjoy, as she is entitled to, all the Human Rights available to any other human being. This is apart from, and, in addition to, the Fundamental Rights available to her under Article 21, which, as we have seen, guarantees “Right to Life” to every citizen of this country. This right would positively include the right to be told that a person, with whom she was proposed to be married, was the victim of a deadly disease, which was sexually communicable. Since “Right to Life” includes right to lead a healthy life to enjoy all faculties of the human body in their prime condition, the respondents, by their disclosure that the appellant was HIV (+), cannot be said to have, in any way, either violated the rule of confidentiality or the right of privacy. Moreover, where there is a clash of two Fundamental Rights, as in the instant case, namely, the appellant’s right to privacy as part of right to life and Ms. ‘Y’s right to lead a healthy life which is her Fundamental Right under Article 21, the RIGHT which would advance the public morality or public interest, would alone be enforced through the process of Court, for the reason that moral considerations cannot be kept at bay and the judges are not expected to sit as mute structures of clay, in the Hall, known as Court Room, but have to be sensitive, “in the sense that they must keep their fingers firmly upon the pulse of the accepted morality of the day”

Morals as a test of positive law

Morals can be used to check if the law is being more positive or not. If the law will not consider morals, it is very positive. But it is not that the positive laws will not be binding, laws are made to be binding on the people. In those laws where strict liability will be read, we can’t say that it will consider morals in determining the cases. Morals are used to test the extent to which laws are positive.


Hence the law justice and morals have a difference but at the same time are related to each other. Morals have often been considered the end of the law. Many jurists have defined law based on ‘Justice’. 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.

In modern terms, there is a lot of difference between the law and the morals, justice being the base of law. 

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