Substantive Law: Meaning and Significance

Today, the vast bulk of substantive law is codified and may be found in either the federal code or the state's own criminal code. Criminal codes typically consist of two sections: a general section and a particular section. The basic section of a code often defines terms and phrases that will be used throughout (such as the word "willfully"), lists all potential defenses, and outlines the overall penalty schedule. The special part of the code often describes each individual crime, outlining the elements of the crime (components of the crime) that the prosecution must establish beyond a reasonable doubt in order to convict a defendant of a crime.

What is Substantive Law?

Legislation that defines crime is a part of substantive law since it outlines the criteria that must be met in order for the government to establish that a crime has been committed. Definitions of inchoate crimes (incomplete crimes) involving conspiracies, solicitations, and attempts are also included in substantive law.

  • Additionally, substantive law establishes accomplice culpability (when a person will be held responsible when they work in concert with others to complete a crime).

  • The legal arguments one may make in support of a defense when facing criminal charges are also defined by substantive law. Last but not least, substantive law establishes the proper sentences and punishments for offenses.

Civil law's rights and obligations, as well as criminal law's crimes and penalties, are defined by substantive laws. In particular in the common law system, substantive laws are practiced or changed by precedent rather than being codified in legislative statutes. The initiative procedure can also be used to pass these legislations.

  • The real claims and defenses to use in any given lawsuit are referred to as substantive laws.

Nature of Substantive Law

It includes −

  • Laws that establish an individual's rights, obligations, and what they may or may not do are referred to as substantive laws.

  • These statutes have the authority to decide any matter independently.

  • The legal environment of every crime, including how the case will be handled and what exact consequences will be meted out for any offense, is determined by substantive laws.

  • Substantive laws in the common law system are statutes or precedents.

  • Legal relationships between people, or between an individual and the state, are the subject of substantive laws.

  • Statutory laws, known as substantive laws, establish and specify both the rights and duties of citizens to be safeguarded by the law as well as the offenses or wrongdoings and their appropriate remedies.

Sources of Substantive Law

The sources of the substantive laws are typically 

  • Existing common law principles were codified into statutory laws.

  • Constitution

  • Legal precedents in cases involving comparable facts and circumstances.

Besides, various treaties that specify the terms of the law also give rise to substantive laws. The laws and regulations of the European Union, which are followed by trade agreements, WTO regulations, and bilateral agreements, are one example of this.

Types of Substantive Law

The substantive laws specify both the right and the wrong, as well as the appropriate penalty or remedy. All sectors of public and private law are covered by the laws, along with substantive civil and criminal laws.

Substantive Civil Law

Laws that deal with conflicts involving any people, organizations, or both of them and in which the victim has a right to compensation are known as substantive civil laws. In order to determine whether the plaintiff's legal rights have been violated or not, the courts use substantive civil laws.

Using the pertinent substantive civil laws, the plaintiff must demonstrate that they have experienced damages or have been injured. If the plaintiff is successful in establishing his or her case in court, either on their own or with the assistance of an attorney, substantive civil laws will be applied to recompense the plaintiff for any harm or injury consequently sustained.

While both parties have the right to appeal, substantive civil laws do not offer either party any constitutional protection.

Substantive Criminal Law

Criminal offenses and the penalties that should be given for them are covered by substantive criminal laws.

Once a defendant breaks a criminal law, a criminal case is launched. The fundamental goal of substantive criminal laws is to punish the guilty party, although depending on the circumstances, compensation may also be given to the victim. The court determines, using substantive criminal laws, whether or not the accused is guilty and, if so, what should be the consequences for the criminal offense.

Contrary to substantive civil laws, substantive criminal laws provide the accused with constitutional protections right away during the course of the trial. However, unlike substantive civil laws, only the defendant may appeal in this situation, as opposed to both parties.

Limitation of Substantive Law

It includes 

  • Sometimes, substantive law provisions prevent people from getting justice. Justice may be hampered by some substantive law provisions that are unfavorable to a particular litigant.

  • Any person's power and freedom can be limited and restricted by substantive laws.

  • The judiciary must uphold the state's unrestricted and unlimited ability to enact laws that conform to its own desires.

However, if a law is unconstitutional, the judiciary in India has the power to overturn it.


A conclusion about substantive law can be drawn from writings in a variety of professional books. This field of law is concerned with the legal relationships between subjects (people) or between the subject and the state. A statute, known as substantive law, establishes the rights and duties of citizens to be protected by the law, specifies crimes or wrongs as well as their remedies, and establishes the facts that make up a wrong—i.e., the topic of litigation in the context of administering justice. The terms "remedy" and "right" are defined by substantive law, which encompasses all categories of public and private law as well as substantive civil and criminal law.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q1. What is an example of substantive law?

Ans: A substantive law establishes a legal connection or forbids particular behaviors. In other words, it specifies what you are able to do. For instance, a state that prohibits stealing such a law would be substantive. Its example is Indian Penal Code (IPC).

Q2. Why do we have substantive law?

Ans: The application of substantive law is used to determine whether a crime or tort has been committed, what charges may be brought, and whether the evidence is sufficient to prove the charges.

Q3. Is criminal law substantive or procedural?

Ans: When it comes to criminal law, substantive law is that which establishes what behaviors are crimes and specifies the punishment for committing them, as opposed to procedural law, which outlines or specifies the procedures by which a criminal will be punished.

Q4. Is assault a substantive law?

Ans: A substantive law is one that defines assault and its punishment.