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

Edited by Harlon Moss || By Janet White || Updated on November 25, 2023
Procedural law outlines the methods and processes for enforcing legal rights and obligations, whereas substantive law defines the rights and duties themselves.

Key Differences

Procedural law governs the mechanics of how a legal case flows, including steps like filing and evidence presentation, while substantive law deals with the actual claims and defenses used in cases.
Procedural law provides the framework for how disputes are formally resolved in court, whereas substantive law encompasses the set of laws that create, define, and regulate rights.
In procedural law, the focus is on ensuring a fair and consistent process, while substantive law is concerned with the legal merits of claims and defenses.
Procedural law includes rules on jurisdiction, pleading, and court practices, whereas substantive law includes areas like contracts, torts, and property.
Procedural law is about the form of legal proceedings, whereas substantive law is about the substance of rights and obligations.

Comparison Chart


Governs the process of legal proceedings.
Defines legal rights and duties.


On legal process and rules of court.
On the actual matter of law and legal relationships.


Rules of evidence, trial procedure, and court conduct.
Laws regarding contracts, property rights, and crimes.


To ensure fairness and consistency in legal proceedings.
To establish and regulate legal rights and obligations.

Role in Legal System

Framework for the enforcement of rights.
Basis for claims and defenses in legal disputes.

Procedural Law and Substantive Law Definitions

Procedural Law

Procedural law sets the rules for conducting a legal case.
The judge referred to procedural law to decide on the admissibility of evidence.

Substantive Law

Substantive law governs how the facts in the case are handled.
Substantive law played a role in determining damages in the lawsuit.

Procedural Law

Procedural law governs the mechanics of court procedures.
Procedural law dictates how and when documents must be filed in court.

Substantive Law

Substantive law defines legal rights and obligations.
Substantive law determined the parties' obligations in the contract dispute.

Procedural Law

Procedural law includes the steps for enforcing legal rights.
Procedural law guided the appeal process in the legal case.

Substantive Law

Substantive law covers the content of specific laws.
Substantive law was used to establish liability in the negligence case.

Procedural Law

Procedural law outlines the formal steps in the judicial process.
Procedural law was critical in determining the trial’s timeline.

Substantive Law

Substantive law includes written statutes and legal precedents.
The judge interpreted substantive law to make a ruling on property rights.

Procedural Law

Procedural law is about the methods of legal practice.
The attorney followed procedural law in preparing the deposition.

Substantive Law

Substantive law is concerned with the substance of legal claims.
In the criminal case, substantive law defined the elements of the offense.


What happens if procedural law is not followed in a trial?

Not following procedural law can lead to appeals or mistrials.

What is the main function of procedural law?

Procedural law ensures legal processes are conducted fairly and consistently.

How does substantive law affect individual rights?

Substantive law establishes and defines individual legal rights and duties.

Are court rules considered procedural law?

Yes, court rules are a key part of procedural law.

Are legal rights in contracts determined by substantive law?

Yes, substantive law defines the legal rights in contract law.

How does substantive law impact societal behavior?

Substantive law shapes behavior by outlining legal consequences for actions.

Does substantive law include criminal law?

Yes, criminal law is a major part of substantive law.

Is procedural law the same in all jurisdictions?

Procedural law varies across different jurisdictions and court systems.

Do lawyers need to be well-versed in procedural law?

Lawyers must be knowledgeable in procedural law to effectively navigate legal systems.

Can substantive law change over time?

Yes, substantive law can evolve with new statutes and judicial decisions.

How does substantive law interact with constitutional law?

Substantive law often derives principles and constraints from constitutional law.

Does procedural law apply to administrative proceedings?

Procedural law also applies to administrative and regulatory proceedings.

Is property law a form of substantive law?

Yes, property law is a significant area of substantive law.

Can substantive law determine the outcome of a case?

Yes, the application of substantive law can directly influence case outcomes.

Are evidence rules considered procedural law?

Yes, rules regarding the admissibility of evidence are part of procedural law.

Can a law be both procedural and substantive?

Some laws may have both procedural and substantive elements.

Does substantive law deal with legal penalties?

Substantive law includes determining legal penalties and remedies.

How important is procedural law in ensuring justice?

Procedural law is crucial for ensuring justice through fair trial processes.

What role does procedural law play in appeals?

Procedural law governs the process and rules for filing and arguing appeals.

Are jury selection rules part of procedural law?

Yes, rules governing jury selection are considered procedural law.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.

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