An appraisal of the “Conflict Process”

by Aparajita Mishra and Amit Shankar
Hidayatullah National Law University, Raipur, India.


This paper appraising the “Conflict Process”, delves in to the merits concerning the concomitant attribution of prospects and their interpretation for the ‘conflict of law situation. The paper, further discusses the historical development by tracing the evolution of the whole concept. The paper also discusses in minute details the stages, confinement of the concept and the related enigma therein. The pre-agreed contracts, the status of foreign law, the closest and real connection test and attempts at the unification of the law has been dealt with in all spheres. The paper within all limitations and constraints has planned to push the grey areas for clarification.

Triggering the conflict

Conflict of laws is that branch of international law that regulates all cases involving a "foreign" law element, where a difference in result will occur depending on which laws are applied as the lex causae[1].

·        Firstly, it is concerned with determining whether the proposed forum has jurisdiction to adjudicate and is the appropriate venue for dealing with the dispute[2], and,

·        Secondly, with determining which of the competing state's laws are to be applied to resolve the dispute? It also deals with the enforcement of foreign judgments[3].

In justifying the reference to the foreign law, English Judges have frequently used the term comity of nations “a phrase which is grating to the ear, when it proceeds from a court of justice”[4] In the opinion of Frederick Harrison in ‘Jurisprudence and the Conflict of Laws’, “It starts up unexpectedly in any court and in the midst of any process. It may be sprung like a mine in a plain common law action…”

A Retrospective Circumnavigation in to the Concept

The first instances of conflict of laws can be traced to Roman law where parties from foreign countries would go before a praetor perigrinus in Rome to plead their case. The praetor perigrinus would often choose to apply the law native to the foreign parties rather than Roman law[5].

·        The Rise of Nations

The scene regarding the international compatibility of laws changed with the rise of nationalism in the 18th Century when nation states and national laws developed.

·        The early rules

Influenced by the personal law theory of the 13th century statutes, the Civil Code of France, 1804 at Art.3, third paragraph, invoked the law of the citizen for questions of status and capacity:

"The laws concerning the status and capacity of persons govern French citizens, even those residing in foreign countries.[6]"

Napoleon believed that, because the French Civil Code was so superior, all French citizens should benefit from it, wherever they were. He also believed that he was entitled to conquer the world by war to impose his law and to bring peace. The modern field of conflicts emerged in the United States during the 19th century with the publishing of Joseph Story's treatise on the Conflict of Laws in 1834. Story's work had a great influence on the subsequent development of the field in England such as those written by A.V. Dicey. Much of the English law then became the basis for conflict of laws for most commonwealth countries.

The stages in a conflict case

Drawing the lines

Conflict of law rules is a separate and distinct rule in any legal system, just as much as the law of tort or of contract, but it possesses this unity, not because it deals with one particular topic[7], but because it is always concerned with one or more of the three questions namely:

·        Jurisdiction of the court

·        Recognition and enforcement of the foreign judgments

·        The choice of law

Hence, any branch of Private International Law must confine itself towards concerning with these three matters. Dealing with the jurisdiction aspect, the court assumes jurisdiction:

·        Firstly, when a party approaches it for relief or when it is empowered by a statute to do so[8].

·        Secondly, in matters, like of Divorce, where the mere presence of the defendant does not make the courts jurisdictionally competent.

·        Thirdly, in the cases where there is a separate regime for jurisdictional rules in case of the defendant being a member of the European Community[9].

Choice of law rules

Courts faced with a choice of law issue have a two-stage process:

  1. the court will apply the law of the forum (lex fori) to all procedural matters (including, self-evidently, the choice of law rules); and
  2. it counts the factors that connect or link the legal issues to the laws of potentially relevant states and applies the laws that have the greatest connection[10], e.g. the law of nationality[11] (lex patriae) or domicile (lex domicilii) will define legal status and capacity, the law of the state in which land is situated (lex situs) will be applied to determine all questions of title, the law of the place where a transaction physically takes place or of the occurrence that gave rise to the litigation (lex loci actus) will often be the controlling law selected when the matter is substantive, but the proper law has become a more common choice[12].

Illustrating the enigma

 Suppose that A, who has a French nationality and residence in Germany, corresponds with B who has American nationality, domicile in Arizona, and residence in Austria, over the internet. They agree the joint purchase of land in Switzerland, currently owned by C who is a Swiss national, but they never physically meet, executing initial contract documents by using fax machines, followed by a postal exchange of hard copies. A pays his share of the deposit but, before the transaction is completed, B admits that although he has capacity to buy land under his lex domicilii and the law of his residence, he is too young to own land under Swiss law. The rules to determine which courts would have jurisdiction and which laws would be applied to each aspect of the case are defined in each state's laws so, in theory, no matter which court in which country actually accepts the case, the outcome will be the same (albeit that the measure of damages might differ from country to country which is why forum shopping is such a problem)[13]. In reality, however, moves to harmonize the conflict system have not reached the point where standardization of outcome can be guaranteed[14].

Pre- mediated provisions of choice of law

Many contracts and other forms of legally binding agreement include a jurisdiction or arbitration clause specifying the parties' choice of venue for any litigation[15]. Then, choice of law clauses may specify which laws the court or tribunal should apply to each aspect of the dispute[16]. This matches the substantive policy of freedom of contract. Judges have accepted that the principle of party autonomy allows the parties to select the law most appropriate to their transaction[17]. Obviously, this judicial acceptance of subjective intent excludes the traditional reliance on objective connecting factors, but it does work well in practice[18].

The status of foreign law

Generally, when the court is to apply a foreign law, it must be proved by foreign law experts. It cannot merely be pleaded, as the court has no expertise in the laws of foreign countries nor in how they might be applied in a foreign court[19]. Such foreign law may be considered no more than evidence, rather than law because of the issue of sovereignty. If the local court is actually giving extraterritorial effect to a foreign law, it is less than sovereign and so acting in a way that is potentially unconstitutional[20]. The theoretical responses to this issue are:

On one hand, this notion is used to describe the situation where a local court applies a rule other than the Lex fori[21] (local law).

On the other hand, it could mean that the rule is being applied to a factual situation that occurred beyond the territory of its state of origin. As an example of this situation, one can think of an American court applying the British Torts Statute to a car accident that took place in London where both the driver and the victim are British citizens but the lawsuit was brought in before the American courts because the driver's insurer is American. One can then argue that, since the factual situation is within the British territory, where an American judge applies the English Law, he doesn't give an extraterritorial application to the foreign rule. In fact, one can also argue that the American judge, had he applied American Law, would be doing so in an extraterritorial fashion[22].
         Once the lex causae has been selected, it will be respected except when it appears to contravene an overriding mandatory rule of the lex fori[23]. Each judge is the guardian of his or her own principles of ordre public (public order) and the parties cannot, by their own act, oust the fundamental principles of the local municipal law which generally underpin areas such as labour law, insurance, competition regulation, agency rules, embargoes, import-export regulations, and securities exchange regulations[24]. Furthermore, the lex fori will prevail in cases where an application of the lex causae would otherwise result in a fundamentally immoral outcome, or give extraterritorial effect to confiscatory or other territorially limited laws[25].

In some countries, there is occasional evidence of parochialism when courts have determined that if the foreign law cannot be proved to a "satisfactory standard", then local law may be applied[26]. In the United Kingdom, in the absence of evidence being led, the foreign law is presumed to be the same as the lex fori. Similarly, judges might assume in default of express evidence to the contrary that the place where the cause of action arose would provide certain basic protections, e.g. that the foreign court would provide a remedy to someone who was injured due to the negligence of another[27]. Finally, some American courts have held that local law will be applied if the injury occurred in an "uncivilized place that has no law or legal system", as was the case in Walton v. Arabian American Oil Co.[28].

If the case has been submitted to arbitration rather than a national court, say because of a forum selection clause, an arbitrator may decide not to apply local mandatory policies in the face of a choice of law by the parties if this would defeat their commercial objectives[29]. However, the arbitral award may be challenged in the country where it was made or where enforcement is sought by one of the parties on the ground that the relevant ordre public should have been applied[30]. If the lex loci arbitri has been ignored, but there was no real and substantial connection between the place of arbitration and the agreement made by the parties[31], a court in which enforcement is sought may well accept the tribunal's decision[32]. But if the appeal is to the courts in the state where the arbitration was held, the judge cannot ignore the mandatory provisions of the lex fori[33].

Development of the ‘closest & most real connection’ rule

The term "proper law of the contract" was first used over 100 years ago by Westlake, who defined it as "the law of the country with which the contract has its most real connection."

In 1940, Morris and Cheshire published an essay, titled "The Proper Law of a Contract in the Conflict of Laws", and the term was taken up by that great innovator, Lord Denning, in 1972 in Boissevain v. Weil[34], where he said:

"According to private international law, when a British subject who is residing in the United States borrows dollars from an American, the validity of the contract to repay - that is to say, the question whether it creates legal obligations or not - depends on the proper law of the contract and that depends not so much on the place where it is made, nor even on the intention of the parties, or on the place where it is to be performed, but on the place with which it has the most substantial connection."

Morris also introduced the term "proper law of the tort[35]" in 1951 which he defined as:

"... the law which, on policy grounds, seems to have the most significant connection with the chain of acts and consequences in the particular situation before us."

The "closest and most real connection" is seen in contract[36], and in tort[37] "the most significant relationship". It is also seen in the Restatement Second, 1969 as "the most significant relationship" in tort[38] and in contract[39]. Russell J. Weintraub has gone beyond the evaluating of interests and has developed abbreviated choice of law rules for both torts and contracts[40].

Sec. 188 of the Restatement Second of 1969 is as follows:

"The rights and duties of the parties with respect to an issue in contract are determined by the local law of the state which, with respect to that issue, has the most significant relationship to the transaction and the parties under the principles stated in sec. 6."

The theme runs like a thread through Dicey & Morris and the Restatement Second. It was a finding of extraordinary importance. It is the basic concept today of most conflict of law legislation, national or international[41]. The concept of "the most significant connection" or "the closest and most real connection", principally the work of Morris in contract and tort[42], is the greatest contribution ever to the theory and practice of conflict law[43].

The Attempts at Unification

            To apply one national legal system as against another may never be an entirely satisfactory approach[44]. The parties' interests may always be better protected by applying a law conceived with international realities in mind. The Hague Conference on Private International Law is a treaty organisation that oversees conventions designed to develop a uniform system[45]. The deliberations of the conference have recently been the subject of controversy over the extent of cross-border jurisdiction[46] on electronic commerce and defamation issues[47].

There is a general recognition that there is a need for an international law of contracts, for example, many nations have ratified the Vienna Convention on the International Sale of Goods, the Rome Convention on the Law Applicable to Contractual Obligations offers less specialized uniformity, and there is support for the UNIDROIT Principles of International Commercial Contracts, a private restatement, all of which represent continuing efforts to produce international standards as the internet and other technologies encourage ever more interstate commerce. But other branches of the law are less well served and the dominant trend remains the role of the forum law rather than a supranational system for Conflict purposes[48]. Whether the domestic courts of the Member States would be consistent in applying those letters is speculative[49].



In a recent decision, Richman v Ben-Tovim[50] the Supreme Court of Appeal of South Africa decided that the mere physical presence of the defendant in the foreign jurisdiction at the time process was served is a sufficient basis for international jurisdiction in the context of the recognition and enforcement of foreign judgements sounding in money. The step may not be a conclusive dictate of unification but it definitely symbolizes the concern and fortitude of the courts of law to walk the extra mile for the unification of law through the conflict process.

Unfortunately, the interpretations of these utterances have circumstantially yielded little to the minds interpreting Private International Law[51].

The conflict of law in spite of all odds keeps succeeding in the endeavor to provide justice beyond frontiers, and the unification thereof.

* The Authors Aparajita Mishra and Amit Shankar are students in the third and fifth year of law respectively at Hidayatullah National Law University, Raipur, India.

[1] See generally North P. & Fawcett J. “Private International Law”, Edn.13, Butterworths, 2004, p.35-45.

[2] Eg Amin Rasheed Shipping Corpn v Kuwait Insurance Co. [1984] AC 50 at 65; Spiliada Maritime Corpn v Cansulex Ltd. [1987] AC 460 at 477, Societte Nationale Industrielle Aerospatiale v Lee Kui Jak [1987] AC 871 at 895.

[3] Re Bonacina [1912] 2 Ch 394; and see now the Contracts (Applicable Law) Act 1990.

[4] De Nova (1964) 8 Am JLH 136, 141, citing the earlier American author, Livermore.

[5] George  James P. & Teller Anna K. Conflict Of Laws 56 SMU L. Rev. 1283.

[6] Translation of the text from French.

[7] Monsanto Co. v. Boustany, 73 S.W.3d 225 (Tex. 2002).

[8] American Law Institute. Restatement of the Law, Second: Conflict of Laws. St. Paul: American Law Institute.

[9] See the Civil Jurisdiction and Judgements Act 1982.

[10] Dicey & Morris, The Conflict of Laws, Sweet and Maxwell, Vol. 1, edn.12 3rd impression, London, 1993.

[11] ‘Mancini’ advanced the lex patriae theory further in the second half of the nineteenth century, opening the door wider to the application of foreign law in conflicts cases.

[12] Lauritzen v. Larsen, 345 U.S. 571, 1953 AMC 1210 (1953), Hellenic Lines, Ltd. v. Rhoditis, 398 U.S. 306, 1970 AMC 994 (1970).

[13] For detailed discussion about these rules in different nations altogether, see generally writings by Cheshire & North and J.H.C. Morris in England; Scoles & Hay in the United States; Batiffol & Lagarde, Mayer and Loussouarn & Bourel in France; Castel, McLeod and Groffier in Canada; and Sykes & Pryles and Nygh in Australia.

[14] North, Peter & Fawcett James. (1999). Cheshire and North's Private International Law (13th edition). London: Butterworths.

[15] See generally e.g., Owens Corning v. Carter, 997 S.W.2d 560 (Tex. 1999).

[16] Nat'l W. Life Ins. Co. v. Rowe, 86 S.W.3d 285.

[17] See generally Brokaw v Seatrain U.K. Ltd. [1971] 2 Q. B. 476 (C.A).

[18] Dicey and Morris on the Conflict of Laws (13th edition) (edited by Albert V. Dicey, C.G.J. Morse, McClean, Adrian Briggs, Jonathan Hill, & Lawrence Collins). London: Sweet & Maxwell 2000.

[19] See generally Mayo v. Hartford Life Ins. Co., 220 F. Supp. 2d 714.

[20] Sprigman Chris, Why The Hague Convention On Jurisdiction Threatens To Strangle E-Commerce And Internet Free Speech” can be accessed at

[21] See also, The Arctic Explorer, 590 F. Supp. 1346, 1984 AMC 2413 (S.D. Tex. 1984).

[22] Brown Ian, “Conflict of Laws” Old Bailley Press, Second Edition, 2004.

[23] Amchem Products v. B.C. Workers, [1993] 1 S.C.R. 897.

[24] See also, Max Planck Institute for Comparative and International Private Law publication available at

[25] Klaxon Co. v. Stentor Elec. Mfg. Co., 313 U.S. 487, 497 (1941).

[26] Russell J. Weintraub, Commentary on the Conflict of Laws 649-95 (4th ed. 2001).

[27] See generally, Gamogab v Akiba [2007] FCAFC 74 (18 July 2007).

[28] 233 F.2d 541 (2d Cir. 1956).

[29] Reed, Alan. (2003). Anglo-American Perspectives on Private International Law. Lewiston, N.Y.: E. Mellen Press.

[30] William Tetley, "The On-Going Saga of Canada's Conflict of Law Revolution - Theory and Practice (1998-2001)” (2004) 24 IPRax Magazine, no. 5 (Sept.-Oct. 2004) 457-473.

[31] O.T. Africa Line Limited v. Magic Sportswear, [2004] EWHC 2441 (Comm.), [2004] All ER (D) 49 (Q.B.).

[32] Turner v. Grovit, [2004] 2 Lloyd's Rep. 169.

[33] Schneider Nat'l Transp. v. Ford Motor Co., 280 F.3d 532.

[34] [1949] l K.B. 482, at pp. 490-491 (C.A.).

[35] See supra note no.21.

[36] Dicey & Morris, 11 Ed., 1987, in contract (at Rule 180).

[37] Dicey & Morris, (at Rule 204, 11 Ed., 1987 and Rule 202, 12 Ed., 1993).

[38] Sec. 145 Restatement Second of 1969.

[39] Sec. 188 Restatement Second of 1969.

[40] See supra note no.27.

[41] William Tetley, Glossary of Conflict of Laws (P.I.L.) Terms.

[42] See also Vita Food Products, [1939] A.C. 277, (1939) 63 Ll.L. Rep. 21, 1939 AMC 257, [1939] 2 D.L.R. 1 (P.C.) and The Halcyon Isle, [1981] A.C. 221, [1980] 2 Lloyd's Rep. 325, 1980 AMC 1221 (P.C.)

[43] See “American Society of Comparative Law”can be accessed at

[44] William Tetley, “A Canadian Looks at American Conflict of Law Theory and Practise, Especially in the Light of American Legal and Social Systems (Corrective v. Distributive Justice)”, 38 Col. J. Transnat’l L. 299-373.


[45] See also William Tetley, “Current Developments in Canadian Private International Law (1s996-1998)” (1999) 78 Can. Bar. Rev. 152-199.

[46] Magic Sportswear Corp. v. O.T. Africa Line Ltd., [2004] FC 1165.

[47] William Tetley, “New Developments in Private International Law: Tolofson v. Jensen and Gagnon v. Lucas”, (1996) 44 Am. J. Comp. Law 647-668.

[48] Fluor Australia Pty Ltd v ASC Engineering Pty Ltd. [2007] VSC 262 (17 July 2007).

[49] See Scoles F. Eugene & Hay Peter, Conflict of Laws 360-71 (2d ed. 1992).

[50] 2007 2 SA 283 (SCA); [2007] 2 All SA 234 (SCA).


     Senior United States District Judge, for the Southern District of New York.