comprises the rule by which a court hears and determines what happens in civil
or criminal proceedings
. The rules are designed to ensure a fair and consistent application of due process
(in the U.S.) or fundamental justice
(in other common law
countries) to all cases that come before a court. The substantive law
, which refers to the actual claims and defenses whose validity is tested through the procedures of procedural law, is different than procedural law.
In context of procedural law; procedural rights may also refer not exhaustively to rights to information, rights to justice, rights to participation which those rights encompassing, general Civil and Political rights. In environmental law, these procedural Rights have been reflected within the UNECE Convention on "Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters" known as the Aarhus Convention (1998).
Although different kinds of legal procedure are directed towards facilitating the resolution of different kinds of legal activities, all have certain things in common. All legal procedure, for example, is concerned with due process
. Absent very special conditions, a court can not impose a penalty - civil or criminal - against an individual who has not received notice of the action being brought against them, or who has not received a fair opportunity to present evidence for themselves.
The standardization for the means by which cases are brought, parties are informed, evidence is presented, and facts are determined is intended to maximize the fairness of any proceeding. Nevertheless, strict procedural rules have certain drawbacks. For example, they impose specific time limitations upon the parties that may either hasten or (more frequently) slow down the pace of proceedings. Furthermore, a party who is unfamiliar with procedural rules may run afoul of guidelines that have nothing to do with the merits of the case, and yet the failure to follow these guidelines may severely damage the party's chances. Procedural systems are constantly torn between arguments that judges should have greater discretion in order to avoid the rigidity of the rules, and arguments that judges should have less discretion in order to avoid an outcome based more on the personal preferences of the judge than on the law or the facts.
Legal procedure, in a larger sense, is also designed to effect the best distribution of judicial resources. For example, in most courts of general jurisdiction in the United States, criminal cases are given priority over civil cases, because criminal defendants stand to lose their freedom, and should therefore be accorded the first opportunity to have their case heard.
European History and Concepts
"Procedural law"/"Substantive law" in various languages
The "procedural law" in opposite to "substantive law" is a concept available in various legal systems and languages. Similar to the English expressions are the Spanish words derecho adjectivo
and derecho material
or derecho sustancial/sustantivo
, as well as the Portuguese terms for them, direito adjetivo
and direito substantivo
. Other ideas are behind the German expressions formelles Recht
) and materielles Recht
as well as the French droit formel/droit matériel
and the Italian diritto formale/diritto material
In Germany the expressions formelles / materielles Recht have been developed in the 19th century, because only during such time the Roman actio has been split into procedural and substantive components.
The Substance of "Procedural law"/"Substantive law" in Europe
In the European legal systems the Roman law had been of great influence. In ancient times the Roman civil procedure applied to many countries. One of the main issues of the procedure has been the actio
(similar to the English word "act"). In the procedure of the legis actiones
included both procedural and substantive elements. Because during this procedure the Praetor
had granted, or denied, litigation by granting or denying, respectively, an actio
. By granting the actio
in the end has created claims. I.e. a procedural act caused substantive claims to exist. Such priority (procedure over substance) is contrary to what we think of the relationship nowadays. But it has not only been an issue of priority and whether the one serves the other. Since the actio
had been composed of elements of procedure and substance it was difficult to separate both parts again.
Even the scientific handling of law, which has grown up during medieval times in the new universities in Italy (in particular in Bologna, Mantua) did not come to a full and clear separation. (The English system of "writs" in the middle age had a similar problem like the Roman tradition with the actio
In Germany the unity of procedure and substance in the actio definitely has been brought to an end at the codification of the Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch (BGB) which came into force on January 1, 1900. The expression Anspruch (§ 194 of BGB) - meaning "claim" - has been "cleared" from procedural elements. And this was the time for "founding" the terms formelles / materielles Recht. However, after World War II the expression formelles Recht obviously has been found "contaminated" and to a broad extent has been replaced by Prozeßrecht meaning narrowing the idea behind it to "law of litigation" (thereby excluding f.i. the law of other procedures and the law on competences).
Europe in ancient and medieval times / Germany
- Andreas Kollmann: Begriffs- und Problemgeschichte des Verhältnisses von formellem und materiellem Recht, edition: Duncker & Humblot, Berlin, Schriften zur Rechtsgeschichte no. 68, 1996