lawful right

danielxu85

Senior Member
Mandarin Chinese
Thanks, cuchu! Is there such a thing as "lawful right"? Does it make sense?


Moderator note: This thread has been split from a related topic.
 
  • JamesM

    Senior Member
    Yes. If you Google "lawful right " you will see many examples.

    A lawful right is a right guaranteed by law. The phrase can be used in the positive or negative: "It is my lawful right to take my children from their adoptive mother." "You have no lawful right to search my house. I have done nothing wrong and you have no warrant."
     

    danielxu85

    Senior Member
    Mandarin Chinese
    Thanks, JamesM! Your explanation is great! Still, I am not sure what's the difference between "lawful right" and "legal right". Could you illustrate on that point?
     

    se16teddy

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I prefer to use the word 'lawful' in the sense of 'permitted by the law', and not in the sense 'enforceable at law'. Accordingly I prefer 'legal right' rather than 'lawful right'.

    According to the Oxford English dictionary, the word 'lawful' (sense 2a) can mean 'appointed, sanctioned, or recognized by law'. However, the dictionary adds that this sense is 'now chiefly [used] in certain traditional collocations, as lawful heir, king, money, parliament, sovereign, succession, title; also, lawful captive, prey, prize, (to be) lawful game.' I don't think that 'lawful right' is one of these 'traditional collocations'.
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I suspect it's a pleonasm, Daniel. If it's not a lawful or a legal right it's not a right. Of course you may want to raise the question of whether it's sanctioned by some sense of common law or by the law of the land, or both. But if you want to explain all that, you are better leaving the right unqualified by an adjective and putting your justification in something like a relative clause afterwards. Say a right, which is supported/sanctioned/established by law.
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    I suspect it's a pleonasm, Daniel. If it's not a lawful or a legal right it's not a right. Of course you may want to raise the question of whether it's sanctioned by some sense of common law or by the law of the land, or both. But if you want to explain all that, you are better leaving the right unqualified by an adjective and putting your justification in something like a relative clause afterwards. Say a right, which is supported/sanctioned/established by law.
    I think there are many uses of "right" that are not just about legal rights. Human rights (I know it's a varying definition) may not be supported by law. My right to know where my children are going when they leave the house is not supported by law, but I'll assert that right. :) We speak of people having the "right to a decent burial" when that is not actually supported legally. Many people claim the right to govern Jerusalem, as another example.

    In other words, I don't think "lawful right" is redundant. It indicates that I not only assert the right, I am within the law, and supported by the law, in my assertion.
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I think there are many uses of "right" that are not just about legal rights. Human rights (I know it's a varying definition) may not be supported by law. My right to know where my children are going when they leave the house is not supported by law, but I'll assert that right. :) We speak of people having the "right to a decent burial" when that is not actually supported legally. Many people claim the right to govern Jerusalem, as another example.

    In other words, I don't think "lawful right" is redundant. It indicates that I not only assert the right, I am within the law, and supported by the law, in my assertion.
    Sure, James, but Daniel was talking about lawful or legal rights.

    Do you think it makes sense to talk about illegal or unlawful rights?
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    Sure, James, but Daniel was talking about lawful or legal rights.
    I only saw "lawful rights" in this thread. Perhaps I missed something from the other thread. What I was responding to was your statement:

    Thomas Tompion said:
    I suspect it's a pleonasm, Daniel. If it's not a lawful or a legal right it's not a right.
    You called "lawful right" a pleonasm, which is saying, in essence, that it is redundant. I was saying that there are cases where rights are not necessarily "lawful rights", in the sense of being sanctioned by law.

    Do you think it makes sense to talk about illegal or unlawful rights?
    :) No. Well, "right to die" might be considered an "illegal right" for those who consider it their right to take their own life in a state where it is outlawed. The right to speak out against the government may be claimed as a right in a country where it is not legal to do so. I can imagine someone saying, "It is my right, even if it is not my lawful right, to speak out against these things."
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    I certainly agree that "legal right" is the far more common term of the two. From what I understood from the original post, though, the question was:

    Is there such a thing as "lawful right"? Does it make sense?
    "Legal rights" didn't enter into it until later in the thread.

    My comments about hits were in response to your comment: " I don't think that 'lawful right' is one of these 'traditional collocations'." I'd say that a million hits are sufficient grounds for considering it a traditional collocation, particularly if you look at the sources of many of the hits.
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Thanks for your reactions, James.
    Don't you think it's good advice for Daniel to recommend that he cuts the legal or the lawful, and uses a clause to explain how he wishes to qualify the word right?
     

    panjandrum

    Occasional Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    If we're playing the numbers game, Googlefight http://www.googlefight.com/index.php?lang=en_GB&word1=lawful+right&word2=legal+right gives 284 million results for 'legal right' and 1 million for 'lawful right'.
    A point of clarification: Googlefight, like Google search, will count everything that contains the word legal and the word right, unless you type "legal right" in quotes. So http://www.googlefight.com/index.php?lang=en_GB&word1="lawful+right&word2="legal+right gives 1,140,000 for "legal right" and 189,000 for "lawful right". Legal right is still "the winner", but by a very much smaller margin.

    GoogleGames are often misleading, but they are useful indicators, used with care.
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Panj, you've tempted me. I've just googled for one of the most disgraceful modern pleonasms, and topped even your legal right (only 284 million hits). In this day and age knocks even it into a cocked hat with 387 million hits. I was pleased to see you counselled care.
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    Thanks for your reactions, James.
    Don't you think it's good advice for Daniel to recommend that he cuts the legal or the lawful, and uses a clause to explain how he wishes to qualify the word right?
    I don't know. All I have to work with is "lawful right." There is no other context.

    To me, "lawful right" is a way to emphasize the claim, so it would be entirely appropriate in some contexts and probably inappropriate in others.

    Any chance we can get more context? :)
     

    panjandrum

    Occasional Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Whatever the logic, lawful right is listed numerous times as part of local government byelaws in the UK. Some of the thousands of examples:
    A person shall not, except in pursuance of a lawful agreement with the Council, or otherwise in the exercise of any lawful right or privilege, bring or cause to be brought into the pleasure ground any cattle, sheep, goats or pigs, or any beast of draught or burden.
    Havering, Pleasure Ground Byelaws

    Oh, hang on a moment, they are all more or less the same :)
    OK, on the basis of my comprehensive survey of three, it seems that in the byelaws of every local authority in England, the phrase "lawful right or privilege" appears several times.

    It's not only in the ancient wording of the byelaws. In that most modern of political institutions, the House of Commons, Dr Stephen Ladyman, Minister of State for Transport said:
    He will be aware that there is a great deal of controversy about access to the vehicle record that the DVLA holds and about whether the DVLA is giving that information out to the right people. It is required to give it out to people who have a lawful right to have it. People who have a justifiable claim to see the vehicle record have a lawful right to have access to it, but that is not clearly defined in the legislation.
    Hansard: 23 March 2006
    The curious thing about this statement is that it includes the words in red - from which I infer that it is possible to have a lawful right that is not set out in the law.

    Incidentally, responding to Thomas Tompion's Google - this again points up the importance of the quotation marks:

    367,000,000 for in this day and age
    1,200,000 for "in this day and age"
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I infer that it is possible to have a lawful right that is not set out in the law.

    Incidentally, responding to Thomas Tompion's Google - this again points up the importance of the quotation marks:

    367,000,000 for in this day and age
    1,200,000 for "in this day and age"
    Yes, Panj, this was the point I was making about a right which was founded in some sense of natural law, but not established or even mentioned in a statute. I'm not surprised that a Minister should commit a pleonasm - they are almost their stock in trade, giving them time to think - but find it odd that he should say lawful rather than legal right. The adjective legal could be used to distinguish between a right supported by statute and other rights. The adjective lawful raises the question of what is meant by an unlawful right, and I can't see any intelligent person wanting to open that avenue of thought.

    I take the point about googling and inverted commas. I still regard the google score as almost counter-indicative of good style, which must be kept rigorously separate from usage.
     

    panjandrum

    Occasional Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    The point, though, is that lawful right is not a pleonasm, and it does not mean the same as legal right. We may wonder at the use of the words, but Dr Ladyman was carefully making the distinction.

    The meaning of the phrase is established. Taking into account actual usage and the comments above from Thomas Tompion, JamesM and se16teddy:
    Legal right - a right that is formally established in law;
    Lawful right - a right that is not contrary to any law.

    Wondering about the possibilities of illegal rights, or unlawful rights may be interesting, but the difficulties that creates don't get in the way of appreciating the above distinction.

    It is worth pointing out that legal and lawful are not always used with such precision and each has more general definitions.
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Lawful right - a right that is not contrary to any law.
    Many thanks for this, Panj. A lawful right still rings in my ear like an unmarried bachelor. How would we talk of a right which ran counter to a law of the land? We think we have a right to freedom of speech, say, but realize that this is circumscribed by the law in various ways; thus we musn't publicly slander people, or incite racial hatred, for instance. So how about our right to incite racial hatred - that's the newer prohibition? Would we say we had a lawful right to say what we want, but we don't have a lawful right to incite racial hatred? What do the two lawfuls add to the sentence - that the one is proscribed by the law and the other isn't? I'm not sure we would. I think we'd say we had a right to say what we think in general but not the right to incite racial hatred.

    More interesting might be what we'd say if the state proscribed something which we felt we had a right to do, like tell our children we loved them. If the state passed a law saying that we couldn't talk to our children like that, we'd say we had a right to talk to our children like that and the state had no right to interfere in such matters. Again we wouldn't say we no longer had a lawful right to do this, unless we were of a pontificating nature.

    I largely accept the point about a legal right as one supported by statute, though I worry about the fact that a lot of the law is not inshrined in statute but established by precedent. Our right to tell our children we love them might then be a legal right, because sanctioned by precedent - because nobody has ever questioned it, even though never mentioned in a statute.

    Of course, lurking behind all this, is my suspicion is that right is a word with not much more than an emotive meaning. When I say I've got a right to do something I don't think I'm saying much more than that I should be allowed to do it without anybody, including the state, objecting.
     
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