Law is a very broad term, and so, even scholars
have trouble formulating a concrete definition. E. Adamson Hoebel comments that
“to seek a definition of the legal is like the quest for the Holy Grail”.
Therefore, when attempting to define law, one must keep in mind that this is an
abstract term, and the definer is free to choose a level of abstraction,
subject that the choice must be significant in terms of the experience and
present interest of those who are addressed.
Benjamin Nathan Cardozo and Oliver Wendell Holmes
Jr. Cardozo define law as “a principle or rule of conduct so established as to
justify a prediction with reasonable certainty that will be enforced by the
courts if its authority is challenged.” Here, the law is centred around the
courts, which play an important role, and it is also based on judges, who make
the law on the bases of past experiences.
Weber argues that law has three basic properties.
Firstly, citizens should be pressured to follow the law by action, or threat of
action by an external party, regardless of whether a person wants to obey the
law, or does so out of habit. Secondly, these external actions should always
involve coercion or force. Thirdly, the third-party individuals who put the
coercive forces in place should have an official position to enforce the law.
This definition of law helps to distinguish between a law and a convention.
Donald Black perceives law essentially as
governmental social control. He maintains that multiple styles of law can be
observed in a single society, including penal, compensatory, therapeutic and
Penalties are therefore considered one of the
distinguishing factors of a law. In some situations, a criminal statute
prescribes a particular punishment. For example, a law may state that a
particular misdemeanour will carry a fine of €200, or a maximum sentence of 6
months of jail time, or both. In more serious cases, the penalty of a crime
will not be found written in a country’s laws. When this happens, the
punishment is usually decided by a judge. 2
In Malta, the most lenient penalty is a fine,
which is also known as an infringement notice. Fines are administered by a
range of local government agencies, including universities and hospitals.
Traffic, parking and transport-related offences are the most common. An
infringement notice is accompanied by a specific charge, which varies depending
on the infringement. If a fine is not paid in due course, the offender will be
subject to additional fees. Should unpaid fines exceed this stage, more severe
legal action will be taken.
Another common type of penalty is the Suspended
Sentences. This means that the offender is able to avoid a judicial punishment,
usually jail time, unless a further crime is committed during a specified
period of time. This is only possible for sentences shorter than 2 years. A
suspended sentence is not offered in cases where the offender is already
serving a sentence of imprisonment, if the crime is committed during a
probationary period or in the case of repeat offences.
If the terms of a suspended sentence are broken,
the offender will face a prison sentence. This is confinement in a prison for a
specified amount of time.3
If an offence has been committed in particular
workplaces, an offender’s warrant may be suspended, or even terminated. This
also happens in cases of traffic violations. This will occur when an employee
has acted inappropriately or unprofessionally in or outside the workplace, bringing
disrepute to a profession. In serious or repeated traffic violations, citizens
also face the possibility of the termination or suspension of one’s driving
Probation is an allotted amount of time in which an
offender is released from detention, subject to a period of supervision by the
state. In Malta, the services offered by the Probation Services include a
number of orders which provide an extensive history on the offender, as well as
recommendations for the specific person, including community service and