Rules or Laws?

What is a Rule?

A rule can be something that you are allowed to do in a particular situation.

Or a rule can be something you are not allowed to do in a particular situation!

Everywhere we go – at home, at school, in our communities – there a rules.

For example, if you play a sport, you will know there are lots of rules to follow.

When is something a law and not just a rule?

Laws are also rules that apply in lots of different situations.

There are two main types – Civil Law and Criminal Law. You can find out more about these here.

The key difference between a rule and a law, is where it comes from – or who made it.

You can find out more about how laws are made here.

Why does it matter?

When you have a problem that the civil law applies to, then a judge in court can decide what should happen.

If someone is found guilty of breaking the criminal law, then a judge in court will decide what punishment they will get.

A rule that is not a law cannot be enforced by a judge in court and they cannot punish you.

Some examples - rule or law?

  • “I saw someone stealing from a shop” – Law – the person was breaking the criminal law against theft.

  • “I was talking when I should have been listening.” – Rule – no law against this!

  • “I played football and was pushed over” – Rule – a foul. If it is a serious foul and the player is injured, the Law might also be relevant here.

  • “I opened a new toy, it was already broken” – Law could apply here – setting out your consumer rights.

To explore ideas about life with and without rules you can:


Jenny Tyler, Phillip Hawthorn and Stephen Cartwright, There’s a dragon at my school. A good introduction to rules at school as a dragon visits school and breaks every rule. Audience 3-5 years.

William Golding, Lord of the Flies. This book explores what could happen if we live without rules through telling the story of a group of schoolboys who get stranded on a desert island without adults. Audience 13 years upwards.