Difference between Law and Policy
Key difference: A policy is a document that outlines what a government is going to do and what it can achieve for the society as a whole. A law, on the other hand, is a system of rules passed by the government. Laws must be obeyed by all, including private citizens, groups and companies as well as public figures, organizations and institutions.
Laws and policies are an essential part of a society. They help to maintain law and order in any civilization, as well as help shape political and social aspects of the society. While they are easy to club together, they do have two different roles and purposes to play.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, a policy is a "set of decisions which are oriented towards a long-term purpose or to a particular problem." A policy is a document that outlines what a government is going to do and what it can achieve for the society as a whole. It also outlines any and all methods and principles that the government or any entity, for that matter, will use to achieve its directive. A policy is not a law; however, it can often identify new laws that are needed by the government to achieve its goals.
Dictionary.com defines ‘policy’ as:
- A definite course of action adopted for the sake of expediency, facility, etc.: We have a new company policy.
- A course of action adopted and pursued by a government, ruler, political party, etc.: our nation's foreign policy.
- Action or procedure conforming to or considered with reference to prudence or expediency: It was good policy to consent.
- Sagacity; shrewdness: Showing great policy, he pitted his enemies against one another.
A law, on the other hand, is a system of rules passed by 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.
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. Compare bylaw, statute law.
- An act of the supreme legislative body of a state or nation, as distinguished from the constitution.
- Legal action; litigation: to go to law.
- A person, group, or agency acting officially to enforce the law: The law arrived at the scene soon after the alarm went off.
Essentially, a policy sets out the goals and planned activities of an entity, whereas a law may be needed to pass to enable government to put in place the necessary institutional and legal frameworks to achieve their aims as set out in the policy. A law is a legally enforceable rule with which policies must comply. Hence, while a policy may out the need for a new law, it must do to in adherence to the other laws.
Another difference between two, is the fact that a law is more formal. It is a system of rules and guidelines that are derived for the welfare and equity in society. A policy, on the other hand is informal, as it is just a statement or a document of what is intended to be done in the future.
Furthermore, laws are for the people, and policies are made in the name of the people. The people must obey and follow laws, whereas, a policy is declared with the intention of betterment of society and its citizens. It may in turn also promote a new law which the people must obey. In a democracy, a law can be challenged in a court on a federal level, if people believe that the law is hampering society, or is against the rights of the citizens. The law can then either be amended or stricken completely.
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