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Criminal law involves the enforcement of particular forms of behaviour, and the State, as the representative of society, acts positively to ensure compliance. Thus, criminal cases are brought by the State in the name of the Crown...

Source: p 8, The English Legal System 2012-2013, Gary Slapper

How to choose among the 3 disparate definitions? Do they all function in this context?

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In this case, you need to check more dictionaries; none of the options listed in your link really fit the way the word is used in that sentence.

A more comprehensive list is at Merriam-Webster's website, where it includes

3b: active and effective in social or economic function rather than merely maintaining peace and order

and also

4a: indicating, relating to, or characterized by affirmation, addition, inclusion, or presence rather than negation, withholding, or absence

In your sentence, the intention is that the State does not simply sit around and wait for people to tell it what to do and what cases to bring; it goes out and actively seeks out instances where it needs to take action, open investigations, bring charges, prosecute wrongdoers, and so forth.

A common synonym for this sense of "acting positively" is "being proactive".

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1.1 is the best. You could write your example this way:

Criminal law involves the enforcement of particular forms of behaviour, and the State, as the representative of society, acts with certainty to ensure compliance.

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  • I am not convinced that this is proper definition in this context. I don't think there's anything to be certain about. – Crazy Eyes Oct 8 '14 at 21:28

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