We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Advertiser Disclosure
Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.
How We Make Money
We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently of our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

What is Substantive Law?

Mary McMahon
Updated: May 16, 2024

Substantive law is the area of the law which concerns the definition of rights and responsibilities. This is in contrast with procedural law, which describes how those rights and responsibilities are enforced. To illustrate an example, laws which define the various degrees of murder are substantive laws, while laws which protect the right to a speedy trial for people accused of murder are procedural laws. Substantive and procedural law are the two main areas of the law, and they are closely interconnected with each other, as one defines the rules of society while the other creates the framework for enforcing them.

The body of substantive law includes things like defining crimes and prescribing appropriate punishments or providing sentencing guidelines which can be used when determining how someone should be sentenced, along with discussions about legal relationships between people as well as entities. People can be given certain rights under this type of law along with responsibilities which they must fulfill, and the law can also define situations in which liability is incurred.

Substantive law includes both civil and criminal law. For example, definitions of torts are an example of this type of law because they deal with describing infractions of the law, determining which actions would be considered unacceptable under the law, and prescribing remedies for tort violations. Likewise, laws against sexual assault and physical abuse are in the criminal code and are additional examples of substantive laws.

Substantive law is usually drafted in the legislature and passed by vote, although there are some regions of the world where laws can be put to a public vote on the ballot. There are also cases in which laws may be repealed because they are deemed outdated or unnecessary. Several governments have embarked on efforts to clear old laws which are no longer enforced from their legal codes for the purpose of making substantive law somewhat more concise and accurate.

In procedural law, rights and responsibilities are not defined, but the law does cover how substantive law is enforced, ranging from protecting rights which people are due under the law to laying out how trials should be conducted. Violations of procedural law can result in questions about whether or not a case was handled justly, and in some cases can cause a verdict to be overturned not because someone is necessarily innocent, but because procedure was not followed. This is one reason why people who work in law enforcement are very careful about following procedure.

MyLawQuestions is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a MyLawQuestions researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon262227 — On Apr 19, 2012

Substantive law is derived from defences that mask the source of the reason for wanting justice.

By anon262224 — On Apr 19, 2012

It keeps the same allegation going and does not clarify the defense.

By burcidi — On May 27, 2011

During law school, the biggest arguments were about whether we should be taught substantive law or legal theory, which we call jurisprudence. This actually depends on which school you are attending. Because different schools and professors tend to focus on different areas of law.

My school taught both substantive law and jurisprudence, which I think is the best way to go. You can't possibly become a lawyer without knowing the substantive law. That is also an area of study that never ends, lawyers have to keep up with changes in substantive law and become versed well enough in it.

It would also not be right to go through law school without learning any theory. I mean, that's the core of law, the history. And the legal system should be one that is flexible, that adapts to changing societal circumstances and norms. If your theoretical foundation is strong, you can initiate the right changes in the legal system.

By serenesurface — On May 25, 2011

Most of the substantive law today are created by Congress. Before, substantive law in the United States came from precedents. A judge made a decision on a case and similar cases used that case and decision as an example later on. So substantive law was basically the same as common law.

But now, statutes and laws are passed by either the legislatures of states or the U.S. Congress and this has mostly replaced the common law tradition from before.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

Learn more
MyLawQuestions, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

MyLawQuestions, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.