Imagine the legal world as a puzzle. Where the two crucial pieces of procedural and substantive law fit together for a fair outcome. Although both of these legal terms can easily get dismissed in legal jargon. It is important to understand these terms and the differences between them. When it comes to criminal offenses and justice, these two laws play a major role. They outline rules, regulations, and obligations for criminal law. We will take a look at these two laws in this blog. Further, we will discuss the meaning, procedural vs. substantive law differences, and basic elements of both laws. 

Overview Of Substantive Law

Substantive law is a statutory law that establishes the rights, duties, obligations, and principles of individuals in society. This law defines what is legally right and what is not. Not just that substantive law also outlines the consequences of violating the norms of legal conduct. This law covers a broad spectrum. Substantive criminal law, contract law, property law, and more. Substantive justice is a law that is concerned with the rights and obligations that govern our interactions and activities.

Overview Of Procedural Law

Procedural law, on the other hand, governs the process of enforcement of substantive law. It outlines the procedure and rules that everyone involved in the legal proceeding must follow. Which means it consists of rules for courts, lawyers, and litigants. This law ensures consistent handling of all cases. Procedural law safeguards the rights of individuals during legal proceedings. The law includes rules regarding jurisdiction, evidence, court structure, etc. 

The procedural law is available in publications such as “Rules of Civil Procedure” and “Rules of Court.” The procedural law related to federal courts is available in “Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.”

The Difference Between Substantive And Procedural Law

Both procedural and substantive law are integral parts of the legal system. However, they serve different purposes and operate differently in the legal industry. Below, we discuss the difference between substantive law vs procedural law. 

1. Focus and Scope

  • Substantive Law: The substantive law is the branch of the law that manages the substantive legal rights, responsibilities, and obligations. This law defines the principles that govern the interactions within a society. 
  • Procedural Law: Procedural law is the branch that deals with the enforcement processes of legal rights, responsibilities, and obligations. This law helps in outlining the steps and rules for legal processing. This law establishes the rules for initiating, conducting, and concluding legal proceedings. 

2. Nature of Content

  • Substantive Law: The content that substantive justice consists of includes rules, principles, regulations, and definitions. The content of substantive law guides the behavior and determines the legal actions. It mostly consists of questions that deal with legality and justice. 
  • Procedural Law: Procedural justice consists of rules and regulations that ensure the fair conduct of legal proceedings from start to finish. It deals with matters such as the presentation of evidence, rights to appeal, court jurisdiction, and sequence of actions.

3. Creation of Rights and Obligations

  • Substantive Law: Substantive law creates, protects, and defines rights. It establishes the rights of the individuals who are seeking remedies for violations of their rights. Not just that, it also manages the rights for fulfillment of their obligations. 
  • Procedural Law: Procedural law doesn’t create rights. It only provides the structure to enforce the rights that substantive law grants. This law ensures that all the parties have an accessible and organized means to resolve disputes.
Creation of Rights and Obligations

4. Time for Application

  • Substantive Law: The time for the application of substantive law is before, after, and during the legal proceedings. It sets the code and standards for conduct, even if any dispute arises or not. 
  • Procedural Law: The procedural law is usually applicable during the legal proceedings only. This law guides the process of legal conduct from initiation to conclusion. The procedural law also outlines the steps each party should follow during the procedure. 

5. Public vs. Private Law

  • Substantive Law: Substantive law comprises both public and private law matters. In public law, substantive law deals with the relationship between individuals and the state. And in private law, it deals with the interactions between individuals. 
  • Procedural Law: Procedural law also deals with both private and public law. It ensures consistency and just process irrespective of the nature of the case. 
Public vs. Private Law

The Bottom Line

Both these laws are a crucial part of criminal justice. While substantive law shapes the rules, regulations and principles that guide legal conduct. Procedural law upholds all these rules, regulations, and principles in the court. Fair and just legal proceedings can accomplish this. Whether you are a law student, a criminal lawyer, or just a lawyer in general. It is important to know all these laws. We hope this article gives you an overview of the difference between procedural and substantive law. 

What role do juries play in substantive criminal law cases?

Juries play a crucial role in the evaluation of the case evidence that is being presented in the court. They also have to determine whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty. This is on the basis of the elements of the substantive law.

How does substantive law relate to procedural law?

Substantive law defines the rules, and procedures for criminal offenses and their elements. On the other hand, procedural law outlines how the court handles those rules. This law ensures fair and just legal proceedings.

Can substantive law change over time?

Yes, substantive law can evolve over time. It can be on the basis of societal changes, legislative updates, and legal interpretations. Authorities can define new crimes and update penalties for existing ones.


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