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procedure, in law, the rules that govern the obtaining of legal redress. This article deals only with civil procedure in Anglo-American law (for criminal procedure, see criminal law). Except for evidence, procedure conventionally embraces all matters concerning legal actions that come to trial; thus, procedure is the means for enforcing the rights guaranteed by the substantive law.

Current Civil Procedure

A legal action, in its simplest form, is a proceeding of a plaintiff against a defendant from whom redress is sought. The plaintiff begins a lawsuit by filing a complaint, a written statement of his or her claim and the relief desired, with a court that has jurisdiction (authority to hear the case). The defendant is served a process (e.g., a summons) that notifies him or her of the suit and usually responds with an answer. Failure to respond ordinarily entitles the plaintiff to a judgment by default.

Today, liberal rules of pretrial discovery allow parties to a civil action to obtain information from other parties and their witnesses through depositions and other devices. Discovery (i.e., disclosure) is now used to ascertain the facts believed by the other side to exist, and to narrow the issues to be tried. At common law, pleadings performed this function, and they were continued beyond the complaint and answer until an issue was agreed upon.

The issue is one of law if the defendant denies that the alleged acts are a violation of substantive law entitling the plaintiff to relief; it is one of fact if the defendant denies committing any of the alleged acts. The judge rules on an issue of law, and if the judge upholds the defendant the suit is dismissed. An issue of fact is resolved by the presentation of evidence to the jury, or, in cases tried without a jury, by the judge. After the jury has delivered a verdict on the factual issue, the judge renders a judgment, which in most (but by no means all) instances upholds the verdict. At this point the case is closed (unless the losing party prosecutes an appeal), and the plaintiff, if having won, proceeds to execution of the judgment.

Evolution of Procedural Law

Current procedural law has had a long historical evolution. The early common law allowed an action to be brought only if it closely conformed to a writ. Rigorous enforcement of the rule “no writ, no right,” and the small number of available writs acted to deny relief even in meritorious cases and stimulated the growth of equity, which, in its early days, gave redress generously.

By the 19th cent., however, the technical intricacy of equity and law procedure and the tendency to make cases hinge on procedural details rather than on substantive rights made reform imperative. The way was led by the New York code of civil procedure of 1848 (largely the work of David Dudley Field), which abolished the distinction between law and equity (thereby effecting great simplification) and established the cause of action as the procedural cornerstone. A similar reform was accomplished in Great Britain by the Judicature Acts of 1875. Today the procedure of most American jurisdictions is based on codes (like that of New York) rather than on common law and equity, although the influence of these separate categories is still frequently discernible.


See J. Michael, The Elements of Legal Controversy (1948); P. Carrington, Civil Procedure (1969).

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A projection from the central mass of an organism.
(computer science)
To assemble, compile, generate, interpret, compute, and otherwise act on information in a computer.
A program that is running on a computer.
A system or series of continuous or regularly occurring actions taking place in a predetermined or planned manner to produce a desired result.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


1. Law
a. a summons, writ, etc., commanding a person to appear in court
b. the whole proceedings in an action at law
2. Biology a natural outgrowth or projection of a part, organ, or organism
3. Computing a distinct subtask of a computer system which can be regarded as proceeding in parallel with other subtasks of the system
4. Film, TV denoting a film, film scene, shot, etc., made by techniques that produce unusual optical effects
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005


1. <operating system, software> The sequence of states of an executing program. A process consists of the program code (which may be shared with other processes which are executing the same program), private data, and the state of the processor, particularly the values in its registers. It may have other associated resources such as a process identifier, open files, CPU time limits, shared memory, child processes, and signal handlers.

One process may, on some platforms, consist of many threads. A multitasking operating system can run multiple processes concurrently or in parallel, and allows a process to spawn "child" processes.
This article is provided by FOLDOC - Free Online Dictionary of Computing (


(1) To manipulate data in the computer. The computer is said to be processing no matter what action it is taking upon the data; whether the data are actually being updated in a database or just being displayed on screen.

In order to evaluate a computer system's performance, the time it takes to process data internally is often analyzed separately from the time it takes to get it in and out of the computer. The I/O (input/output) is usually more time consuming than the processing. For an explanation of how the computer processes data, see "Processing" under the term computer. See also process technology.

(2) Software running in the computer. When a computer is booted, numerous processes are started. Some are parts of the operating system, while others are applications that have been designated to run at startup. In a Windows computer, pressing Ctrl-Alt-Del launches the Task Manager, which displays all running processes. In the Mac, the Activity Monitor in the Applications/Utilities folder shows the processes. See Windows processes.
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