Types of law and legal definitions

“The law is what is read, not what is written.” -Donald Kingsbury

The correct interpretation of laws is an important and primary step in the legal field which guides a person who is studying law towards a deep and multidimensional outlook as to the real purpose for which the law has been created.

Bare Act PDFs

A person who is studying law need not look only at the superficial translation of the written context but also at the objective for which it has been created, thus, learning to read between the lines to reach the minds of the creators of the legislation so that the law and its interpretation can be used in the right context at the right place, be it in the courtroom or a research paper.

This article mentions some of the important types of laws and legal definitions which will help you understand the absolute nature of the law.

Types of Law Based on Their Usage

Based on usage, a particular bare law can either talk about the constitution of a legal wrong along with penal provisions or about the way the implementation procedure is to be carried out with regard to a legal wrong. Thus, based on the usage, there are two types of law, i.e. Substantive and Procedural.

Substantive Law

Substantive laws are the laws that establish the rights and duties of the people, which ultimately define the acceptable behaviours of the people in a society. It also lays down the punishment and penalties for the violation of the duty of oneself and infringement of the right of another. Substantive laws can be codified or uncodified. Substantive law can also be derived from judicial precedents.

Examples of Substantive Law:

Bare Act PDFs

Procedural/Adjective Law

As the name itself suggests, procedural law is the one that lays down the process by which the laws will be implemented on the ground. Procedural law mentions the stages which a case law will undergo, starting from the filing of a complaint to the final verdict. In essence, procedural laws mention the way by which substantive laws will be enforced and executed.

Examples of Procedural Law:

Excise and Taxation Commissioner, Haryana v M/s Frigoglass India Private Limited and another (2019): Procedural law is generally considered retrospective in nature unless otherwise mentioned in the law, whereas a substantive law in most cases is not considered to have a retrospective effect.

Types of Legal Definitions

Based on the extent of the meaning of a definition, there are two types of definitions in law:

1. Inclusive or Extensive Definitions

Inclusive definitions are the ones which are wide in their interpretation and do not lay a strict boundary as to its arena of extent. These definitions usually have the term ‘includes’ or ‘is deemed to include’ in them.

Example: Section 12 of the Indian Penal Code, that is, the definition of the term “public.” The word “public” includes any class of the public or any community.

2. Exhaustive Definitions

Exhaustive definitions are restrictive in nature and use the term ‘means and includes’ in them. These definitions usually define the arena of the extent to which they are accustomed.

Example: The definition of a banking company under section 2(bb) of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947, as interpreted by the Supreme Court in the below-mentioned case.

In West Bengal State Warehousing Corporation vs M/S. Indrapuri Studio Pvt. Ltd. & Another, the Supreme Court interpreted the term ‘means and include’ and said that if a definition uses the term “means” then it means that “definition is a hard-and-fast definition, and no other meaning can be assigned to the expression than is put down in definition.”

But when the term “includes” is used, then the intent of legislators is to retain the wider ambit of the law and not to restrict it in its application. This makes the definition ‘enumerative’ and not ‘exhaustive’.

Thus, when the term includes is preceded by the term means, then it represents the intent of legislators to keep the definition as an exhaustive one.


“Statutes are a mere milestone, telling how far yesterday’s thought had travelled, and the talk of the sidewalk today is the law of the land. With us, the law is nothing unless close behind it stands a warm, living public opinion.” -Wendell Phillips

The laws of a country define the existential thinking process of the country. Of course, with time, the thinking process of society changes, and so do the obsolete laws. But the most important thing in its entirety is how the laws are interpreted and used to retain the value of justice.

WritingLaw » Law Notes » Meaning of Substantive Law and Procedural or Adjective Law Law Study Material
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