Difference between Law and Bylaw

Key Difference: Laws are actually rules and guidelines that are set up by the social institutions to govern behavior. These laws are made by government officials. Laws must be obeyed by all. Laws set out standards, procedures and principles that must be followed. Bylaws are secondary laws that are established by an organization, community that allows it to regulate itself.

In order to establish a society it must follow a set of rules and laws that help govern its smooth running. The laws and rules are established to ensure that everyone is treated as the same. The laws and rules ensure that each individual must follow a set of guidelines and if/she ends up breaking any of those rules they must accept the consequences no matter their social standing or position. The laws and rules used to maintain smooth and efficient functioning of the society. Imaging a society with no rules, where a person will be free to do as he/she wishes. It will unleash chaos and the society will fall. Laws and rules go hand-in-hand causing much confusion over their definitions. To many people, including in legal terms, laws and rules are the same and can be used simultaneously. However, these are different words and used in different contexts.

Laws are actually rules and guidelines that are set up by the social institutions to govern behavior. These laws are made by government officials that in some countries are elected by the public to represent their views. In simple terms, laws are basically things that a person can and cannot do. It is enforced by government officials such as police officers, agents and judges. Laws are ideas that must go through the process of checks, balances and votes in order for them to become a law. However, the enactment of a law varies based on the government. In an autocracy, the leader has the power to pass any law he wishes. In a democracy, the bill to enact a law must be voted on by the different parts of the government. Laws must be obeyed by all, including private citizens, groups and companies as well as public figures, organizations and institutions. Laws set out standards, procedures and principles that must be followed. A law is enforceable by the judicial system, i.e. those responsible for breaking them can be prosecuted in court. There are various types of laws framed like criminal laws, civil laws, and international laws. Breaking a law is a punishable crime and has drastic consequences such as hefty fines, jail time and community service time.

Dictionary.com defines ‘law’ as:

  • The principles and regulations established in a community by some authority and applicable to its people, whether in the form of legislation or of custom and policies recognized and enforced by judicial decision.
  • Any written or positive rule or collection of rules prescribed under the authority of the state or nation, as by the people in its constitution.
  • The controlling influence of such rules; the condition of society brought about by their observance.
  • A system or collection of such rules.

Bylaws are secondary laws that are established by an organization, community that allows it to regulate itself. The derivation of the term bylaw is unclear; the most popular one suggests that the term originates from an old Viking town law. The usage of the term also differs. The term ‘by’ in Old Norse means “village” or “large settlement”. This can be seen in many cities and towns having a name that ends with by such as Whitby and Derby. Bylaws cannot be passed by governments that have complete authority and instead require organizations, municipalities, neighborhood and other such jurisdictions to pass laws that are responsible for the well-being of the community, organization, etc. Let’s try to make it a bit clearer with an example: Let’s assume an XYZ corporation wants to govern certain practices, to do that it will issue bylaws. These bylaws would cover items such as the required number of board members, the voting procedures, the process of discussing matters at a meeting etc. These are enforceable at a corporate level, but outside the jurisdiction, these laws do not hold any weight. However, bylaws cannot contradict the statutory laws of the state and country.

The Free Dictionary defines ‘bylaws’ as:

  • A law or rule governing the internal affairs of an organization.
  • A secondary law.
  • A rule made by a local authority for the regulation of its affairs or management of the area it governs
  • A regulation of a company, society, etc.
  • A subsidiary law

Image Courtesy: ccicanada.org, pecounty.on.ca

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