Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Procedural Law Definition:

The rules of legal process such as the rules of evidence and of procedure in enforcing a legal right or obligation.

Related Terms: Adjective Law

Formerly or historically known as adjective law, by which term procedural law is still referred to in some jurisdictions.

Distinguished from substantive law.

In Sutt v Sutt, the Ontario Court of Appeal wrote:

"(P)rocedural law is the vehicle providing the means and instruments by which those ends are attained.

"It regulates the conduct of Courts and litigants in respect of the litigation itself whereas substantive law determines their conduct and relations in respect of the matters litigated."

In 243930 Alberta Ltd., the Ontario Court of Appeal opined that:

"The types of laws which have generally been considered to be procedural are, first, evidentiary rules such as admissibility, the requirements of written evidence, the competency or compellability of witnesses, the burden or proof, etc.; second, the question of who are the appropriate parties to a lawsuit; and third, questions of how a judgment may be executed."

More creatively, in the context of a criminal case (R v Johnson), and Justice Begbie's inimitable style, he wrote of procedural law as follows:

"The Attorney-General pointed out that ... procedure refers to the machinery only as distinguished from the produce of the machinery only. But if I might venture a modification of that distinction, ... I should feel inclined to suggest that procedure properly means neither the machinery nor the product, but rather the rules set forth by the managers of the machine, showing not who have the right to use it, but how those who have the right are to behave.

"If the machine exists for you, if there is a Court of Appeal in criminal matters, these shall be the rules by which you shall approach the machine to obtain your result."


  • 243930 Alberta Ltd. v Wickham, 73 D.L.R. (4th) 474 (1990, Ontario Court of Appeal).
  • R v Johnson 2 British Columbia Reports 87 (British Columbia Supreme Court, 1892).
  • Sutt v Sutt 1 Ontario Reports 169 (1969, Ontario Court of Appeal). Also published at 2 DLR 3d 33.

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