Enforcement of laws

International Legal Research

Information about Enforcement of laws in free legal resources:

Treaties & Agreements

International Organizations

Jurisprudence $ Commentary

European Union

IP Law

Enforcement of laws

Bad laws

Without doubt, there are a vital influence of social, political, economic and cultural forces on the evolution
of modern law enforcement. Sometimes, a law that exists for a good purpose can be seen as a bad law and a candidate for repeal because it punishes people who have done nothing wrong.

One remedy, of course, is to change the law, but that’s a long-term process. Some considerations:
•Enforcement of the spirit, if not the letter, of the law. What, in fact, was the law meant to accomplish or change? Are there ways in which it can be used to achieve its ends without hurting anyone unnecessarily?
•Enforcement that deals with the underlying problem. For example, with a flexible judge.
•Enforcement that works to the benefit of the largest number of people. Enforcement works best when it’s a win-win situation.

Who is responsible for enforcing laws and regulations?

There are various ways to go about gaining enforcement of laws and regulations, but almost all of them involve at some point contacting the government agency or department in charge. It’s not always easy to figure out which that is, however. In the tangled web of interrelated agencies, bureaus, federal, state, and local departments and boards, it may be difficult to find the particular level or person who is in charge of the enforcement you’re seeking. You may be passed from office to office before you find the right one. Be persistent, and you’ll find the right place.

The first step is to know the source of your law or regulation. For people working in the United States, laws will originate at either the federal, state, or local level. Once you know where the law comes from, you can follow the guidelines below.

General guidelines for finding the right entity to enforce the rules

1. For federal laws and regulations. The federal level can be the most confusing, for at least two reasons.
•First, many federal laws and regulations are in fact enforced by the states… but many aren’t. Most federal bureaus and agencies have offices in the states, and some either have no state equivalents, or work independently of them. It’s sometimes difficult even for the bureaucrats to tell who’s in charge of a particular area.
•The other reason is that there’s so much overlap among agencies. Some environmental laws, for instance, may be administered by the Environmental Protection Agency, others by the Department of Agriculture, others by the Corps of Engineers! Finding out which agency is directly responsible can be a puzzle.

Some federal agencies, like the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC), the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), or the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF), have specific powers that only they can exercise. Others, like the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), depend largely on state agencies to carry out programs and enforce laws and regulations.

Make sure you have a copy of the law. The wording of a federal law itself will tell you which agency is officially in charge of enforcement. Contacting that agency is the place to start, but you may find yourself directed to a state agency that handles the issue.

2. For state laws and regulations. Each state has its own set of laws and regulations covering many of the same areas as the federal government’s. These may be more or less lenient than the federal, or may address different issues. Most California environmental laws, for instance, are far stricter than the federal laws covering the same activities, and some refer to areas that federal laws don’t include at all.

State laws and regulations are generally handled by the state agency in charge, but, as in the case of federal agencies, there’s often a good bit of overlap. In addition, since each state has its own administrative structure, a law that’s handled by a particular agency in one state – the Department of Public Health, say – might be handled by a totally different agency in another – the Department of Environmental Management, for instance.

Once again, a reading of the law will tell you which agency is responsible for enforcement, but won’t tell you how it’s actually handled. You’ll have to go to the agency for that information.

3. For local ordinances and regulations. Local laws are generally the responsibility of the county or community boards that oversee the area they pertain to. Non-smoking ordinances in restaurants are ordinarily enforced by Boards of Health, for instance. A trip to the city hall or the county administrative office will usually tell you which board or officer to contact about a particular ordinance.

See Professional regulatory associations.


Print resources

Berkowitz, Bill, and Tom Wolff. The Spirit of the Coalition. Washington, DC: American Public Health Association, 2000.

Meredith, Judith C. and Catherine M. Dunham. Real Clout. Boston: The Access Project, 1999.

Internet resources

Examples of web sites of government enforcement agencies.

The Child Support Enforcement Agency of the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services.

Information on equal opportunity enforcement from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance.

The Federal Communications Commission Enforcement Bureau. Includes instructions on filing consumer complaints.

The Federal Energy Regulation Commission’s enforcement hotline.

The Departmental Enforcement Center of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The Securities and Exchange Commission’s Enforcement Division.

Massachusetts Environmental Police (Dept. of Fisheries, Wildlife, and Environmental Law Enforcement).

Main source: Community Tool Box (https://ctb.ku.edu)

Other resources:

  • Law enforcement, malfeasance, and compensation of enforces, GS Becker… – J. Legal Stud., 1974
  • Introduction to law enforcement and criminal justice, KM Hess, CH Orthmann… – 2011
  • Law enforcement in the United States,JA Conser, R Paynich… – 2011
  • Freedom: Politics: The Making Of Federal Enforcement Laws, 1870-1872,X Wang – Chi.-Kent L. Rev., 1995
  • Playground Politics: Assessing the Wisdom of Writing a Reciprocity Requirement into US International Recognition and Enforcement Law, KR Miller – Geo. J. Int’l L., 2003



See Also

References and Further Reading

About the Author/s and Reviewer/s

Author: international

Mentioned in these Entries

Constitutional Text: Bangladesh 1972, Amended 2004, Constitutional Text: Brazil Constitution of 1988, Convention for the Conservation of Salmon in the North Atlantic Area, Exclusive Economic Zone 4, United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea 36.

Leave a Comment