Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Medical, Idioms, Encyclopedia, Wikipedia.


Licit; legally warranted or authorized.

The terms lawful and legal differ in that the former contemplates the substance of law, whereas the latter alludes to the form of law. A lawful act is authorized, sanctioned, or not forbidden by law. A legal act is performed in accordance with the forms and usages of law, or in a technical manner. In this sense, illegal approaches the meaning of invalid. For example, a contract or will, executed without the required formalities, might be regarded as invalid or illegal, but could not be described as unlawful.

The term lawful more clearly suggests an ethical content than does the word legal. The latter merely denotes compliance with technical or formal rules, whereas the former usually signifies a moral substance or ethical permissibility. An additional distinction is that the word legal is used as the synonym of constructive, while lawful is not. Legal fraud is Fraud implied by law, or made out by construction, but lawful fraud would be a contradiction in terms. Legal is also used as the antithesis of equitable, just. As a result, legal estate is the correct usage, instead of lawful estate. Under certain circumstances, however, the two words are used as exact equivalents. A lawful writ, warrant, or process is the same as a legal writ, warrant, or process.

West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


allowed, recognized, or sanctioned by law; legal.
Collins Dictionary of Law © W.J. Stewart, 2006

LAWFUL. That which is not forbidden by law. Id omne licitum est, quod non est legibus prohibitum, quamobrem, quod, lege permittente, fit, poenam non meretur. To be valid a contract must be lawful.

A Law Dictionary, Adapted to the Constitution and Laws of the United States. By John Bouvier. Published 1856.
References in periodicals archive ?
The Magistrate said, considering the evidence in-chief and the caution statement taken from the accused, it was incongruous to believe the testimony of the accused - that the police aided him in escaping from lawful custody.
Lawful Holders of patient records are also required to have written contracts or comparable legal instruments with any contractor or legal representative to whom the Lawful Holder re-discloses patient records.
Later, under the 18th amendment of 2010 certain president's orders mentioned in Article 270-AA were declared as having been made without lawful authority and of no legal effect.
It does not mean that it is okay to marry at 11," the Suhakam commissioner cited the examples of a man's ability to be a breadwinner and ensure that his wife is "given knowledge" as factors of a lawful marriage.
She is accused of murder on 8 January 2006 and preventing the lawful and decent burial of a body between 7 January 2006 and 10 January 2018.
The Lawful and Reasonable Excuse and the Importance of Incident Notification under Life Insurance Policies: A Recent Case in the Dubai Court of Cassation
Can you do an article on what happens to a given pistol following a lawful self-defense shooting in which the pistol is confiscated as evidence?
The announcement came shortly after Trump fired Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, who said that the president's travel ban was not lawful.
Portland, OR, April 07, 2016 --( According to a new report by Allied Market Research, titled "World Lawful Interception Market - Opportunities and Forecasts, 2015-2022", the global lawful interception market is forecast to reach $3.3 billion by 2022, growing at a CAGR of 23.3% during the forecast period of 2016 - 2022.
Lawful interception refers to legally authorized surveillance of data and voice communication; it constitutes an important tool for law enforcement agencies worldwide for investigating and litigating criminal activities and tackle the ever-growing threat of terrorism.
Coats filed suit against Dish Network claiming his termination was in violation of a Colorado law known as the "lawful activities statute." The lawful activities statute generally prohibits an employer from terminating an employee for engaging in a "lawful activity" off the premises of the employer, and during non-working hours.
The Colorado Supreme Court has ruled that employees who use medical marijuana are not protected by the state's "lawful activities statute" and can be fired, resolving the issue for employers in that state.