Difference between Law and Equity

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. Equity is a branch of law that was developed as a supplement to the strict statutory laws that may provide too harsh punishments. In layman’s terms, equity is a part of law that decides punishment on the basis of justice and fairness after looking at all aspects of the punishment, including the motive of the accused.

Laws are an important aspect of a society and play a huge part in maintaining peace and justice in the country. However, there are various different types of law systems exist depending on the type of cases are present. Even in different parts of the world, the systems vary depending on culture and religious views. These laws and law systems play a crucial part in determining if a person is good, bad or a victim of circumstance. Some systems determine that a person who does wrong is bad, while another decides that a person that does something bad with a bad intention is a bad person. Law and equity are actually law systems that exist today. Law is a list of rules and guidelines that are used to govern public, while equity is a law system that determines the punishment of a person taking into consideration all surrounding circumstances.

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.

Equity is a branch of law that was developed as a supplement to the strict statutory laws that may provide too harsh punishments. In layman’s terms, equity is a part of law that decides punishment on the basis of justice and fairness after looking at all aspects of the punishment, including the motive of the accused. This system is enacted whenever there is a disagreement to the application of common law. For example: If stealing is a crime and is punishable by law, then anyone who steals is a criminal. Now, if a person steals, they would automatically be punished. However, in equity law, the judge would also take into consideration why the person stole, what was the circumstance under which they accused felt the need to steal, etc.

Equity came around approximately 200-300 years after the development of the common law system in England. The courts of law during that time were filled with the enforcers of the king’s law and were trained to administer punishments that were set in stone. However, any person that was not satisfied with the outcome of the law courts in England, could appeal to the King for a lesser punishment. When the number of appeal cases grew, the King forwarded this duty to his High Chancellors. The High Chancellors were church clergymen and would usually take into consideration the surrounding factors before making a decision. This court became known as the ‘Court of Chancery.’ Following 17th century, the court of Chancery started appointing proper lawyers instead of clergymen or nobles.

In modern times, both the courts have seemed to merge in many countries to create a much fairer law system. However, in some countries, these courts are still separate. The major differences between law and equity exist in the type of solutions that are offered by both. The court of law usually offers monetary solutions, while the court of equity can offer the person to do something or not do something. For example, let’s take a person who stole a car. In the court of law, the victim will more commonly receive the monetary value of the car, while in the court of equity the judge can tell the thief to return the property itself. Another major distinction between the two is the type of courts and the judges available. In the court of law, a jury will be present to determine the outcome of the case, while in equity courts, there is only a judge present that will decide the outcome.

Image Courtesy: ccicanada.org, samhsa.gov

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