What is International Litigation?

K. Wascher

International litigation refers to a legal tool typically used to resolve civil disputes that occur between citizens or governments in two or more countries. Unlike domestic litigation, the parties in an international litigation situation must carefully navigate the judicial system of the foreign jurisdiction to ensure that their rights are adequately protected. Each country maintains its own legal procedures, laws, regulations, and practices that apply to the litigation that commences within their jurisdiction. A party that fails to fully recognize or educate itself about the nuances in the law of a foreign jurisdiction will find itself at a distinct disadvantage during litigation.

Woman posing
Woman posing

In the realm of international litigation, jurisdictional issues tend to be the primary concern among parties and legal counsel. Each country has its own jurisdictional rules that apply in litigation. The location that has jurisdiction has the power or authority to hear a case in its court.

If a party attempts to file a complaint to commence litigation with a court that does not have jurisdiction over the matter, any ruling or decision made by that court will not be enforceable. Furthermore, many countries are broken down into smaller regions, each with its own jurisdictional rules. For example, if a Canadian citizen is involved in a motor vehicle accident with a United States citizen in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the correct jurisdiction is not merely the United States. Rather, it would be a court located in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania.

The procedural rules that apply in a given jurisdiction play an important role in international litigation. Procedural rules govern the way in which a case proceeds through the court system of a particular country or region. For instance, a jurisdiction's procedural rules will state the specific items or facts that must be provided in order to file a valid complaint to commence a litigation action, how and when evidence can be introduced, and the process for appealing a decision made by a court at a specific level. They also guide the court systems in scheduling hearings and considering motions, which allows each case to be litigated in a uniform manner.

Parties and counsel who become involved in international litigation must also be cognizant of the substantive laws of the jurisdiction. Substantive laws are the particular statutes, regulations, and case law that govern how a court will decide a case. Depending upon the jurisdiction, substantive laws will either be derived from legislation, case law, or specific codes. For example, the civil law system used by many European countries relies heavily upon statutory law for substantive legal principles, whereas the common law system of the United States uses both case law and statutory regulations.

Discussion Comments


@simrin-- The difference is that in arbitration, you don't go to court or hire a lawyer. Both sides select a mediator that acts as a neutral judge and makes a decision after hearing both sides and seeing evidence.

I'm not sure if we can say one is better than the other for international cases. But yes, arbitration generally takes less time. As for cost, I doubt that there will be much difference. You will need an arbitrator that is very informed about the laws and procedures of the different countries. So it should cost similarly to litigation.

I think litigation might be better if there is difficulty mediating an agreement between the two sides or if a mediator can't be selected.


I often see international arbitration and litigation compared. It is said that arbitration is a cheaper and easier option.

What exactly is the difference between the two? For international cases which is a better option?


The differences in legal systems, laws and procedures in different countries is a big problem, especially when we are dealing with criminals that work across borders.

People can now easily move around the hemisphere and travel through many countries. But legal systems of countries have not adapted to these changes.

I know it's not possible for there to be one common legal system. But international litigations don't work very efficiently. We need a better and easier way to prosecute money launderers, human, drug and firearm traffickers that are constantly moving across borders, although I'm not sure how.

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