Laws in are essential to maintain peace and order in any society. There are some laws which define the rights and liabilities of the parties and some others which tell how the proceedings should be carried on by the functionaries. And thus, laws can be categorised into two parts i.e. procedural law and substantive law. Every law that is enforced in India today can be put under either of these two categories. These two terms have often been used in common parlance by many legal experts, officers and various newspapers, hence the meaning and difference between the two demand a closer scrutiny and deliberations.

Substantive law, in general terms, is the law which is related to the substance of a matter and procedural law is the law which is related to the procedural aspect of the body of the law. Before understanding it in a theoretical way let’s try to understand it with an illustration. Let’s suppose you are charged with the offence of murder which will have certain elements which prosecution needs to prove before the court to convict the offender. The law which has the elements of a crime and defines the rights and liabilities of the parties would be governed by the substantive part of the law. On the other hand, registration of an FIR (how the FIR should be made in cognizable and non-cognizable offence), how the arrest should be made, contents of chargesheet, framing of charges, etc. are governed by the procedural law. In India examples of substantive law are Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC); Contract Act of 1872; Company Law; etc. and examples of procedural law are Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC); Civil Procedure Code (CPC); etc.

Substantive laws are the laws which regulate the conduct of the parties. On the contrary, procedural laws deal with how the substantive laws would operate. Basically, procedural law contains laws which govern proceedings in civil and criminal matters. Procedural laws without substantive laws would render the former nugatory and of be of no use.

Substantive law talks about relationship between people and the State while procedural law talks about the enforcement machinery of substantive law. Substantive laws are the written rules passed by the legislature which tells how the people should behave while procedural laws on the other hand tells how a legal case flows in the court and tells attorneys, pleaders, parties, etc. how the rules and standards have to be followed while dealing with criminal and civil or administrative law. Let’s try to understand it in more easy way through tabular form.


Basis of Points Substantive law Procedural law
Meaning Law which defines the rights and obligation of the parties concerned. Law which set forth the procedure for the imposition of substantive law.
Context It applies in the context of only legal matters. It applies in context of both legal as well as non-legal matters.
Regulation It regulates by statutory law. It regulates by the acts of parliament.
Examples Indian Penal Code, Company law, law of contract, etc. Criminal Procedure Code, Civil Procedure Code, etc.