What is a procedural law? What is a substantive law?

Substantive law and Procedural law

Substantive law and Procedural law are two major categories within the law.

Substantive law refers to how facts of each case are handled and how to penalize or ascertain damages in each case. Whereas, Procedural law refers to the different processes through which a case proceeds. Substantive laws define the legal relationship between different individuals, or between individuals and the State.[i] Procedural laws define the rules with which substantive laws may be enforced.

Illustration: The question of whether an individual is competent to enter into a contract is dealt under Substantive Law, whereas the question of the time within which one party may sue another is dealt under Procedural Law.

Substantive part of law establishes the rights, duties and liabilities of individuals. Procedural law establishes the methods, practices and ways in which a court proceeding takes place. Substantive law consists of written statutory rules passed by legislature that govern how people behave, They also define our rights and responsibilities as citizens, on the other hand, Procedural law governs the mechanics of how a legal case flows, including steps and processes of a case, it adheres to due process.[ii]

For instance, determining what facts constitute a crime is a matter of substantive law whereas determining which Court has the jurisdiction to try the matter is a matter of procedural law.

In the case of Commissioner of Wealth Tax, Meerut vs. Sharvan Kumar Swarup & Sons[iii], the distinction between Substantive and Procedural Laws was made clear. “As a General Rule, laws which fix duties, establish rights and responsibilities among & for persons natural or otherwise are “Substantive laws”, while those which merely prescribe the manner in which such rights & responsibilities may be exercised & enforced in a Court are ‘Procedural Laws’.”

According to Salmond, The law of procedure may be defined as that branch of the law which governs the process of litigation. It includes all legal proceedings whether civil or criminal. All the residue is substantive law, it relates not to the process of litigation but to its purpose and subject matter.[iv]

Substantive law deals with the ends which the administration of justice seeks while Procedural laws primarily deal with the means and instruments by which those ends can be achieved.[v]

Substantive law relates to matters outside the Courts but procedural laws deal completely with matters inside courts.

In the case of Thirumalai Chemicals Ltd. vs. Union of India and others[vi], the Supreme Court has held that all those laws which affect the substantive and vested rights of the parties have to be taken as substantive law, whereas any provision of law dealing with the form of the trial, mechanism of the trial or procedure thereof, has to be treated as procedural in nature.

“Substantive law refers to body of rules that creates, defines and regulates rights and liabilities. Right conferred on a party to prefer an appeal against an order is a substantive right conferred by a statute which remains unaffected by subsequent changes in law, unless modified expressly or by necessary implication. Procedural law establishes a mechanism for determining those rights and liabilities and a machinery for enforcing them… Right of appeal may be a substantive right but the procedure for filing the appeal including the period of limitation cannot be called a substantive right; and aggrieved person cannot claim any vested right claiming that he should be governed by the old provision pertaining to period of limitation.”

Distinction between Substantive and Procedural Laws:

Sl. No.

Points of Difference

Substantive Laws

Procedural Law



It establishes rights, obligations and duties of individuals with other individuals or individuals with the State.

It lays down the means and methods through which substantive law is enforced.



It has independent powers to decide the fate of each case.

It doesn’t have any independent powers to decide the fate of each case.



It cannot be applied in non-legal contexts.

It can be applied in both legal and non-legal contexts.



It governs the rights and duties of individuals.

It governs the stages in which a civil proceeding proceeds.



It doesn’t exclusively deal with proceedings inside a Court.

It deals with the happenings of a Court.



It is regulated by Acts of Parliament or government implementation.

It is regulated by Statutory laws.

Few examples of Substantive and Procedural Laws:

Substantive Laws-

1. The Indian Contract Act, 1872

2. The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955

3. The Hindu Succession Act, 1956

4. Maternity Benefit Act, 1961

5. The Transfer of Property Act, 1882

6. The Factories Act, 1948

7. Industrial Disputes Act, 1947

8. The Law of Torts

9. Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 (the first part that deals with general principles of law)

10. Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881

11. The Indian Penal Code, 1860

Procedural Laws

1. Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 (the second part that deals with orders with respect to civil proceedings)

2. Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973

3. Law of Evidence, 1872

4. The Limitation Act, 1963

Recently, The Delhi High Court held in the case, NNR Global Logistics (Shanghai) Co Ltd v Aargus Global Logistics Pvt Ltd[vii] that the Law of Limitation is a procedural law rather than a substantive law.

Interrelationship between Substantive and Procedural Laws:

  • Substantive and Procedural Laws complement each other. One without the other isn’t of much value therefore, both are essential for the delivery of justice. In Saiyad Mohammad Bakar El-Edroos … vs Abdulhabib Hasan Arab And Ors[viii], Justice A.P. Misra  held that, “A procedural law is always in aid of justice, not in contradiction or to defeat the very object which is sought to be achieved. A procedural law is always subservient to the substantive law. Nothing can be given by a procedural law what is not sought to be given by a substantive law and nothing can be taken away be the procedural law what is given by the substantive law.”
  • Procedural law ensures the enforcement of substantive law.
  • Both substantive and procedural laws exist in civil as well as criminal laws.

Edited by Pushpamrita Roy

Approved & Published – Sakshi Raje 




[iii] Commissioner of Wealth Tax, Meerut vs. Sharvan Kumar Swarup & Sons(1994)122CTR(SC)380

[iv] Salmond, Jurisprudence (12th ed.), 461.

[v] V D Mahajan, Jurisprudence & Legal Theory (5th ed.), 421.

[vi]Thirumalai Chemicals Ltd. vs. Union of India and others[AIR 2011 SC 1725]

[vii]NNR Global Logistics (Shanghai) Co Ltd v Aargus Global Logistics Pvt Ltd [(2012 (8) AD (Delhi) 125)]

[viii]Saiyad Mohammad Bakar El-Edroos … vs Abdulhabib Hasan Arab And Ors[(SC)-1998-4-58]

Sindhu A
I am Sindhu, a student of Christ (Deemed to be) University. I am pursuing BA LLB, which means that most of my sentences start with "it depends". I am 11 inches taller than an average Indian woman. I am a strong believer of the fact that there's something new to learn everyday. My fixation is primarily on Intellectual property law. Topics surrounding Criminal law, Environmental law and Indian Government and politics pique my interest as well. I present an enthusiastic aptitude for research and writing. During my free time I like to read books that will leave an impression on me forever and I enjoy baking. In my opinion, "Take each day as it comes" are words to live by.