Define: Adjective Law

Adjective Law
Adjective Law
Quick Summary of Adjective Law

Adjective law, also known as procedural law or law of procedure, refers to the set of rules and regulations that govern the process of enforcing substantive legal rights and duties. Unlike substantive law, which defines rights and obligations, adjective law outlines the procedures and mechanisms by which these rights and obligations are enforced. Adjective law includes rules related to initiating legal actions, conducting trials, presenting evidence, and obtaining remedies. Its primary purpose is to ensure fairness, efficiency, and consistency in the administration of justice. Adjective law varies depending on the jurisdiction and the type of legal proceedings involved, such as civil or criminal cases. Overall, adjective law plays a crucial role in maintaining the integrity and effectiveness of the legal system.

What is the dictionary definition of Adjective Law?
Dictionary Definition of Adjective Law

Adjective law refers to a legal principle or rule that pertains to the use and interpretation of adjectives in legal documents, contracts, or statutes. It governs the proper application and understanding of adjectives in legal language, ensuring clarity, precision, and accuracy in legal writing. Adjective law may include guidelines on the use of specific adjectives to describe legal concepts, requirements for the placement and order of adjectives, and rules for the modification of nouns through adjectives in legal contexts. Compliance with Adjective Law is crucial in legal practice to avoid ambiguity, misinterpretation, or potential legal disputes arising from the incorrect or misleading use of adjectives.

Also, procedural law. The body of law governs the process of protecting rights under substantive law.

Full Definition Of Adjective Law

The aggregate of rules of procedure or practice. Also called adjectival law, as opposed to the body of law that the courts are established to administer (called substantive law), it means the rules according to which the substantive law is administered, e.g., the Rules of Civil Procedure. That part of the law that provides a method for enforcing or maintaining rights or obtaining redress for their invasion. Pertains to and prescribes the practice, method, procedure, or legal machinery by which substantive law is enforced or made effective.

Adjective law, also known as procedural law, encompasses the set of rules governing the processes by which courts conduct their operations. Unlike substantive law, which establishes rights and obligations, adjective law provides the mechanisms for enforcing those rights and obligations. It ensures that the legal system operates efficiently and fairly, safeguarding due process of law.

Historical Development

The origins of adjective law can be traced back to ancient civilisations, where early legal systems began formalising methods for dispute resolution. In England, the development of procedural law was significantly influenced by the common law system, evolving through judicial decisions and later codified by various statutes.

The Magna Carta (1215) laid foundational principles for fair trial processes, and subsequent developments during the reigns of Henry II and Edward I further refined judicial procedures. The Judicature Acts of 1873 and 1875 were pivotal, merging the administration of law and equity and streamlining procedural rules.

Key Principles

Adjective law is underpinned by several core principles that ensure justice is administered effectively and equitably:

  • Due Process: Central to adjective law is the concept of due process, which mandates that legal proceedings must be conducted fairly and with proper notice to all parties involved. This principle is enshrined in various legal instruments, such as the European Convention on Human Rights (Article 6), which guarantees the right to a fair trial.
  • Natural Justice: This principle encompasses the rights to a fair hearing (audi alteram partem) and an impartial tribunal (nemo judex in causa sua). It ensures that all parties have the opportunity to present their case and that adjudicators are unbiased.
  • Access to Justice: Adjective law ensures that individuals have access to the courts and legal mechanisms necessary to enforce their rights. This includes provisions for legal aid and the removal of procedural barriers that could hinder access.
  • Judicial Efficiency: Procedural rules aim to promote the efficient administration of justice, minimising delays and reducing unnecessary costs. Case management techniques and alternative dispute resolution mechanisms are integral to achieving this goal.

Structure of Adjective Law

Adjective law can be broadly divided into civil procedure and criminal procedure, each governed by distinct sets of rules and principles.

Civil Procedure

Civil procedure deals with the rules and processes by which civil cases are adjudicated. Key components include:

  • Commencement of Proceedings: Civil cases typically begin with the filing of a claim form, followed by the service of this form to the defendant. The Civil Procedure Rules (CPR) provide detailed guidelines on how these processes should be conducted.
  • Pleadings: Both parties are required to submit pleadings, which outline their respective claims and defences. This stage sets the parameters for the issues to be adjudicated.
  • Disclosure and Discovery: Parties must disclose relevant documents to each other. The CPR outlines the scope and procedure for disclosure, aiming to ensure transparency and fairness.
  • Pre-trial Procedures: This stage includes various case management conferences and hearings, where the court and the parties discuss how the case should proceed, including timelines, potential settlements, and necessary evidentiary matters.
  • Trial: The trial is the central stage where both parties present their evidence and arguments before a judge (and sometimes a jury). The CPR and other procedural rules ensure the trial is conducted fairly and efficiently.
  • Judgment and Enforcement: After considering the evidence and arguments, the judge delivers a judgment. Adjective law provides mechanisms for enforcing these judgments, such as writs of execution and garnishee orders.

Criminal Procedure

Criminal procedure governs the process by which criminal cases are prosecuted and adjudicated. Key stages include:

  • Investigation: Law enforcement agencies investigate alleged crimes. Procedural rules regulate how evidence is collected and preserved to ensure its admissibility in court.
  • Charging and Initial Hearing: The suspect is formally charged and brought before a court. Initial hearings address issues like bail and the scheduling of further proceedings.
  • Pre-trial Procedures: This stage involves various hearings and motions, including plea bargaining, suppression hearings (to challenge the admissibility of evidence), and other pre-trial motions.
  • Trial: In criminal trials, the prosecution and defence present their cases before a judge and, in many cases, a jury. Procedural rules govern the presentation of evidence, witness examination, and other trial processes to ensure fairness.
  • Verdict and Sentencing: After the trial, the judge or jury delivers a verdict. If the defendant is found guilty, a separate sentencing hearing determines the appropriate punishment.
  • Appeals: Adjective law provides mechanisms for appealing convictions or sentences, ensuring that errors in the application of law or procedure can be reviewed and corrected.

Specialised Procedural Rules

In addition to general civil and criminal procedures, adjective law encompasses specialised procedural rules for specific types of cases:

  • Family Law: Family proceedings, such as divorce and child custody cases, have their own set of procedural rules designed to address the unique nature of these disputes. The Family Procedure Rules (FPR) govern these processes, emphasizing the welfare of children and the need for amicable resolution.
  • Administrative Law: Judicial review and other administrative law proceedings are governed by specific rules that allow individuals to challenge the legality of decisions made by public bodies. The Administrative Court Guide provides detailed procedures for these cases.
  • Commercial Law: Commercial litigation often involves complex and high-value disputes. The Commercial Court, part of the High Court, has its own procedural rules that facilitate the efficient handling of these cases.

Reforms and Contemporary Issues

Adjective law is continuously evolving to address emerging challenges and improve the administration of justice. Recent reforms and contemporary issues include:

  • Digitalisation of Courts: The digital transformation of court processes has been a significant development. Online filing systems, virtual hearings, and electronic case management have streamlined procedures and improved access to justice.
  • Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR): The promotion of ADR mechanisms, such as mediation and arbitration, aims to reduce the burden on courts and provide parties with more flexible and cost-effective means of resolving disputes.
  • Cost Management: The high costs associated with litigation have prompted reforms aimed at cost management and predictability. The introduction of fixed recoverable costs and cost budgeting in civil cases are examples of such measures.
  • Access to Justice: Ensuring access to justice remains a critical issue. Reforms have focused on enhancing legal aid provisions and removing procedural barriers that disproportionately affect vulnerable individuals.
  • International Harmonisation: In an increasingly globalised world, there is a growing need for harmonisation of procedural rules across jurisdictions. International conventions, such as the Hague Service Convention and the New York Convention on Arbitration, facilitate cross-border legal processes.


Adjective law is a fundamental aspect of the legal system, providing the framework within which substantive laws are enforced and disputes are resolved. Its principles ensure fairness, efficiency, and accessibility in the administration of justice. As legal systems continue to evolve, adjective law must adapt to new challenges and innovations, ensuring it remains fit for purpose in an ever-changing world. The ongoing reforms and developments in this area reflect a commitment to maintaining a just and effective legal system for all.

Adjective Law FAQ'S

Adjective law, also known as procedural law, comprises the rules and procedures governing the administration of justice, including the process of enforcing substantive legal rights and duties established by substantive law.

Substantive law defines the rights, duties, and obligations of individuals or entities, while adjective law sets forth the procedures and mechanisms for enforcing those rights and resolving disputes.

Some examples include:

  • Rules of civil procedure governing the conduct of civil litigation in courts.
  • Rules of evidence dictating what evidence is admissible in court proceedings.
  • Criminal procedure laws outlining the process for prosecuting and defending criminal cases.
  • Administrative law procedures for challenging agency actions or decisions.

Adjective law ensures fairness, efficiency, and consistency in the administration of justice by establishing procedural rules that govern the conduct of legal proceedings, protect due process rights, and promote the orderly resolution of disputes.

Adjective laws are typically created by legislatures through statutes or regulations and enforced by courts through their interpretation and application in legal proceedings. Additionally, court rules and judicial precedent may shape and refine adjective law over time.

Individuals have various rights under adjective law, including the right to due process, the right to a fair trial, the right to present evidence and witnesses, the right to legal representation, and the right to appeal adverse decisions.

Yes, adjective law can vary between jurisdictions due to differences in legal systems, court rules, and procedural statutes enacted by state or national legislatures.

Lawyers play a crucial role in navigating adjective law by advising clients on procedural requirements, preparing legal documents, representing clients in court proceedings, and advocating for their interests within the bounds of procedural rules.

Adjective laws establish the framework for resolving legal disputes by prescribing the steps and procedures parties must follow, including filing pleadings, conducting discovery, presenting evidence, and making arguments before a judge or jury.

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This site contains general legal information but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation. Persuing this glossary does not create an attorney-client or legal adviser relationship. If you have specific questions, please consult a qualified attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

This glossary post was last updated: 7th June 2024.

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