What’s the difference between Unlawful and Illegal?
Unlawful versus Illegal.
In our office recently we had a discussion around the two terms. In relation to a political decision around Brexit in the UK, Boris Johnson’s actions were said to be unlawful in the news. What does that mean?
If he broke the law why didn’t he go to jail?
He wasn’t jailed as his actions were only unlawful – not illegal.
Whilst it sounds really crazy there is a simple explanation.
Definition of Illegal:
An act is illegal if it breaks a current law or statute that has been passed by the government. There is a defined ‘law’ to break. If you break it there are consequences.
Definition of Unlawful:
Unlawful on the other hand is where there isn’t a specific law passed for such action. If there is no specific statute – then it’s unlawful.
However – it might cause action to be taken under a separate law though.
For example …
If you infringe on someone’s copyright, you might break the law, by selling counterfeit goods, or you stealing an indentity. There are different laws that could come into play for each – depending on how and what you did. Breaking copyright would be deemed unlawful – which could lead to an illegal act.
A restauranteur might hire illegal immigrants to work as kitchen staff. However, this does not necessarily make the restaurant business itself illegal. However, if they knew and were using the business to traffic immigrants then they would be acting unlawfully – supporting illegal activity.
Disclaimer: This article is not legal advice nor should be taken as such. It is only a general discussion around the topic of English terminology and word differences. You should take appropriate legal advice if required.
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