Difference Between Substantive and Procedural Law

Substantive vs Procedural Law

Identifying the distinction between substantive and procedural law is simple as the terms themselves indicate the difference. However, many of us probably have not heard of the above terms. Others might have a vague idea but do not fully understand its meaning. Substantive Law simply means a body of law relating to the substance of some matter or the core of a particular subject matter while Procedural Law refers to a body of law pertaining to a procedure. Substantive and Procedural Law constitute the two main components of the entire field of law. This means that most legal rules, regulations and procedures can be found within these two components. Let’s take a closer look at substantive law and procedural law and the difference between them.

What is Substantive Law?

Traditionally, Substantive Law is defined as written or statutory law that creates, defines and regulates the rights, duties, liabilities, and obligations of citizens in a country. It is the law that defines the legal relationship between citizens or between citizens and the state. Substantive Law is extensive in that it encompasses all forms of public and private law in a country. Thus, it deals with both civil and criminal law. Examples of Substantive Law include the law of contracts, law of torts, property law or criminal law. Substantive Law helps to determine whether a person has committed a crime or civil wrong and spells out the consequences attached to such conduct or acts. Thus, it lists the elements and substance of that particular crime or tort, or rather details the requisites that must be present to establish the crime or tort.

For example, the Substantive Law of crime will list out the elements that constitute murder. Likewise, the Substantive Law of torts will stipulate a person’s rights and/or duties in relation to some particular instance such as negligence. Further, it will indicate what type of punishment should be imposed or what type of compensation should be claimed.

Difference Between Substantive and Procedural Law

Among other things, substantive law says what type of compensation should be claimed

What is Procedural Law?

Procedural Law is defined as the body of law that prescribes the steps to be taken in enforcing legal rights or the method by which Substantive Law is administered. In other words, it is the mechanism or vehicle through which the rights and duties found in Substantive Law are enforced. This body of law encompasses the rules that govern court trials and lawsuits, both civil and criminal. In other words, it defines how a court should hear and determine civil or criminal cases and how such actions must be instituted. Procedural Law is in place to ensure that there is due process and fundamental justice. This means that all persons involved in a legal action or trial are treated fairly and equally at all times. The process adopted to file an action in court, the time limit for applications to court, the arrest and detainment of criminal suspects, and other such procedural aspects are all governed by Procedural Law.

Procedural Law differs from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and is typically found in a written code. For example, a criminal procedure code or a civil procedure code will prescribe the procedural rules pertaining to criminal and civil cases respectively. Think of Procedural Law as that body of law that details the manner in which the legal process functions or how it is practiced. It also includes rules of evidence. In the courtroom, Procedural Law governs the conducting of a trial and the manner of all those involved in the trial. Procedural Law applies not only to the parties to the action but also to lawyers, judges, and others involved in the legal process.

 Substantive vs Procedural Law

Procedural law is the mechanism by which Substantive Law is administered


What is the difference between Substantive and Procedural Law?

Substantive and Procedural Law constitute two important components in law. Essentially, the legal, judicial and law enforcement community are guided by such laws.

• Substantive Law creates and defines the rights, duties and obligations of citizens within a country. It also governs the relationship between citizens or citizens and the state. Its purpose is to regulate and govern the conduct or behavior of people. This can be through various avenues such as rules that prohibit certain acts or conduct (criminal law), rules that govern contract or civil wrongs (contract or tort law), or even rules that govern real estate matters (property law).

• Procedural Law, in contrast, is the mechanism through which rules of Substantive Law are enforced. Thus, it governs the legal process. This means that it prescribes rules in relation to how a case should be filed, what type of evidence should be presented, the manner in which a trial must be conducted, and how the court must hear and determine cases.

• Substantive Law defines the particular crime or wrong while Procedural Law stipulates the manner in which such a crime or wrong will be heard and tried in court.

• In short, Substantive Law deals with the substance of the crime or tort while Procedural Law deals with the process by which a case is brought to trial.


Images Courtesy:

  1. Money by Chris Potter (CC BY 2.0)
  2. Gavel by Brian Turner (CC BY 2.0)