In context of Indian legislature, I know that when a bill is put to vote in the Union parliament and gets the votes of majority of the members in all the houses, it is sent to the President of India for his assent and on receiving the President of India's assent, it becomes an Act.

I really do not understand the difference between an Act and a law. Do they refer to the same thing or are they different things?

1 Answer 1


The words "an Act" and "a law" are often used loosely to be synonymous in an every day conversation, but "a law" is a broader term.

For example, the criminal code is "a law". But, while the original version of the criminal code may have been a single "act", the criminal code has almost certainly been amended by many other acts over the years after its original enactment as a single act.

An "act" is a single enacted bill proposed in a single legislative session approved in a single Presidential assent. A law, in contrast, can be the result of multiple acts approved in multiple Presidential assents at different times and then codified into a single statute.

Also, the term "a law" can be used correctly to refer to a particular holding of case law that is judicially created and not enacted by the legislature.

For example, someone might correctly say, "there is a law that makes it illegal to breach a contract without legal justification", even though that is a case law principle, rather than a legislatively enacted rule.

Confusingly, it isn't uncommon for the short title of a statute (i.e. a law) that is the product of multiple acts amending the original one, to be the short title of the original act that has been amended over the years.

For example, in the United States, the "1933 Securities Act" which was the short title of the original act giving rise to that statute, is still described by that short title, despite the fact that it has been amended scores of times since then well into the 21st century. (A careful writer would say "the 1933 Securities Act, as amended"). I suspect that this practice is also followed in India, because the American practice of naming statutes in this fashion dates back to English practice that was in place before the American revolution and has continued to be followed since then.

This isn't a hard and fast rule, however. Hence, another statute has the short title, "Statute of Frauds", even though it could have been described by the short title of the original act from the reign of Queen Anne.

But, in the abstract, "an act" has its more narrow technical meaning.

Incidentally, to prevent confusion, "the law" is a term much broader than either "an act" or "a law". The phrase "the law" encompasses not just a particular statute, but all statutes, all regulations that have the force of law, all treaties, the constitution, and all judicially created case law, not just statutes which come into being through the passage of bills as acts by the legislature.

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    "The Securities Act (1933) as amended" would be how UK laws would be referred to. I would be amazed if Indian practise was very different. Commented Mar 14, 2019 at 17:04
  • Every country has own constitution and the acts are defined + amended in the constitution. The act then takes the form of law which is then enforced by the police on the general public. Piyush Yadav from askanydifference.com (I specialize in finding differences between various terms)
    – Sandeep
    Commented May 5, 2020 at 16:26
  • @Sandeep The way you use the terminology would be at best unclear and, at worst, inaccurate, in American English. But, this is a case where I would give the benefit of the doubt to the distinction possibly being one of regional English dialect differences. Words don't necessary mean the same thing in every country, even countries that share the same macro-language.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented May 6, 2020 at 19:54
  • For a difference comparison in table format, I would recommend askanydifference.com/difference-between-act-and-law
    – Sandeep
    Commented Dec 31, 2020 at 10:30

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