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Procedural Law vs. Substantive Law — What's the Difference?

By Tayyaba Rehman — Published on October 28, 2023
Procedural Law dictates how legal matters are pursued and processed, while Substantive Law defines rights and duties, establishing what is legal and illegal.
Procedural Law vs. Substantive Law — What's the Difference?

Difference Between Procedural Law and Substantive Law


Key Differences

Procedural Law and Substantive Law operate hand in hand within the legal framework, yet each has a distinct domain. Procedural Law inherently maps out the method, means, and manner in which legal proceedings will navigate through the judicial system. Contrarily, Substantive Law establishes the rights, duties, and statuses of the individuals involved, dictating what behavior is lawful or unlawful.
Substantive Law, without the apparatus of Procedural Law, might lack a systematic, fair, and just means of enforcement and redress in the judicial system. Substantive Law focuses on establishing and defining legal obligations, rights, and responsibilities, while Procedural Law ensures a structured mechanism whereby legal processes such as litigation, investigation, and adjudication are conducted effectively and fairly.
While Substantive Law gives legal parameters and establishes what is lawful, Procedural Law ensures that this establishment is upheld through a cohesive and lawful process. The embodiment of Procedural Law becomes a facilitator that allows the principles embedded in Substantive Law to be applied, interpreted, and enforced consistently and fairly across various cases.
In order to underline their interaction, consider a case in which Substantive Law identifies a certain act as a criminal offense. Procedural Law provides the guidelines on how the accused should be tried, ensuring that the principles of justice, fairness, and equality, as recognized in jurisprudence, are adhered to. Substantive Law determines what constitutes an offense, while Procedural Law delineates the judicial process for it.
Procedural Law provides the channel through which judgments, based on the principles and definitions established by Substantive Law, are transported through the judiciary, ensuring a systematic, unbiased, and equitable framework that substantiates the functioning of legal processes. Therefore, while Substantive Law establishes legal relations and defines offences and contracts, Procedural Law acts as the machinery that processes these definitions and relations through the judicial system.

Comparison Chart


Governs the process and method of legal proceedings
Defines legal rights, duties, and offenses


Ensures fair and consistent administration of justice
Establishes and defines legal relationships and parameters

Deals With

How legal proceedings are conducted
What is lawful and unlawful in conduct

Relation to Cases

Determines how cases are processed and adjudicated
Dictates what constitutes an offense or legal right


Rules for filing a lawsuit
Laws defining theft or contract rights

Compare with Definitions

Procedural Law

Procedural Law aims to uphold fairness in legal processes.
Through Procedural Law, equitable proceedings were safeguarded.

Substantive Law

Substantive Law defines the legal relationships and statuses.
The contract was formulated adhering to Substantive Law.

Procedural Law

Procedural Law ensures consistency in how laws are applied.
Adhering to Procedural Law, the judge maintained a fair trial process.

Substantive Law

Substantive Law determines the legality of actions.
Per Substantive Law, the act was deemed unlawful.

Procedural Law

Procedural Law mandates the steps to follow in litigation.
The attorney followed Procedural Law in filing the appeal.

Substantive Law

Substantive Law identifies what constitutes an offense.
Substantive Law classified the act as a statutory offense.

Procedural Law

Procedural Law delineates the methodology of legal proceedings.
Procedural Law guided the case through the court system methodically.

Substantive Law

Substantive Law sets the legal framework for offenses and contracts.
Substantive Law outlined the elements of a valid contract.

Procedural Law

Procedural Law sets guidelines for conducting legal matters.
Procedural Law provided a roadmap for the legal proceedings.

Substantive Law

Substantive Law establishes legal rights and duties.
According to Substantive Law, the tenant had certain rights.

Common Curiosities

What does Procedural Law govern in legal systems?

Procedural Law governs the method and process of conducting legal proceedings.

What is the main purpose of Substantive Law?

Substantive Law defines legal rights, duties, and what constitutes offenses.

Can Substantive Law dictate legal responsibilities?

Absolutely, Substantive Law defines legal rights and responsibilities.

Are there exceptions in applying Procedural Law?

Yes, there can be exceptions, often determined by jurisdiction or case specifics.

How does Substantive Law impact societal behaviors?

By defining lawful and unlawful behaviors, Substantive Law guides societal conduct.

Are civil rights defined under Substantive Law?

Yes, Substantive Law plays a vital role in defining and protecting civil rights.

How does Procedural Law ensure justice in trials?

Procedural Law sets guidelines to ensure consistent, fair, and orderly legal proceedings.

Can Procedural Law influence the outcome of a case?

While it doesn’t dictate the outcome, Procedural Law ensures a fair trial, which can impact results.

Does Substantive Law establish contractual rights?

Yes, Substantive Law defines and establishes contractual rights and obligations.

Is adherence to Procedural Law mandatory in legal processes?

Yes, adhering to Procedural Law is imperative for legitimate and valid legal proceedings.

Is Substantive Law related to defining legal offenses?

Yes, Substantive Law establishes what actions are considered legal offenses.

Is property law a type of Substantive Law?

Yes, property law, which defines ownership rights, is a form of Substantive Law.

Can Procedural Law affect the duration of legal proceedings?

Yes, the specifics of Procedural Law can influence the timelines of legal processes.

Does Procedural Law include guidelines for filing lawsuits?

Yes, Procedural Law provides guidelines on how lawsuits should be filed and conducted.

How does Procedural Law interact with Substantive Law?

Procedural Law provides the methodology for enforcing and adjudicating Substantive Law.

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Author Spotlight

Written by
Tayyaba Rehman
Tayyaba Rehman is a distinguished writer, currently serving as a primary contributor to As a researcher in semantics and etymology, Tayyaba's passion for the complexity of languages and their distinctions has found a perfect home on the platform. Tayyaba delves into the intricacies of language, distinguishing between commonly confused words and phrases, thereby providing clarity for readers worldwide.

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