Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Liberty Definition:

What a person may do without being prevented from doing so by law.

Related Terms: Freedom of Contract, Right, Power, Civil Liberties, Liberty of the Globe

"Liberty", held the New York Supreme Court, Douglas County, in the 1914 boxing case of Fitzsimmons v. New York State Athletic Commission, "is a word with a double meaning. In a negative sense it means freedom from restraint. In a positive sense it secures freedom by the imposition of restraint."

Canadian constitutional scholar and later justice of the Ontario Court of Appeal, Walter Tarnopolsky wrote, in his 1966 book:

"Legal theorists refer more to liberties than to freedoms.

"A liberty is what a person may do without being prevented from doing so by law. He may thus be·at liberty to express himself on public affairs, to worship as he pleases, or to walk on a footpath.

"However, it must be kept in mind that many liberties or freedoms cannot exist merely because there is absence of legal restraint-they may actually need legal protection and definition or the creation ... of a duty on the part of another towards the holder of the privilege or liberty."

In the context of civil liberties, Bora Laskin listed four, economic liberties, egalitarian liberties, legal liberties and political liberties:

"... political liberties - traditionally including freedoms of association, assembly, utterance, press or other communications media, conscience, and religion; economic liberties - the right to own property, and the right not to be deprived thereof without due compensation, freedom of contract, the right to withhold one's labour etc.; legal liberties - freedom from arbitrary arrest, right to a fair hearing, protection of an independent judiciary, access to counsel, etc.; egalitarian liberties or human rights - right to employment, to accommodation, to education, and so on, without discrimination on the basis of race, colour, sex, creed, or economic circumstance."

French: une liberté, as in liberté civile or liberté publique.


  • Fitzsimmons v. New York State Athletic Commission, 146 NYS 117 (1914)
  • Laskin, Bora, An Inquiry into the Diefenbaker Bill of Rights, 37 Can. Bar Rev. 77 (1959), as quoted in Tarnoppolsky, op. cit., at page 3.
  • Tarnopolsky, Walter Surma, The Canadian Bill of Rights (Toronto: Carswell Company Ltd., 1966), pages 1-3.

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