Fact Checked

What Is Private International Law?

Karize Uy
Karize Uy

Private international law refers to a collection of laws that determine which jurisdiction will be applied in a specific legal case. In this definition, jurisdiction usually refers to a location, such as a state, in which certain laws are followed although they are not necessarily imposed on other areas. Consequently, these laws can also determine where a hearing will be held, if one is needed. Private international law is usually consulted if some party to the case has a stake in an unrelated jurisdiction: for example, a Chinese immigrant in the USA. Several cases that may involve these laws are human trafficking, terrorism, and cyber-crime cases.

On an international level, private international law can be very complex, as its purpose is to reach a middle ground in recognizing and implementing national laws, but at the same time, acknowledging each country’s own set of laws. Sometimes, these laws — sometimes called "conflict of" laws — also have to acknowledge the laws related to business establishments, while still implementing national or foreign laws. Cases can sometimes be more complicated when countries have multiple jurisdictions, such as in the US, where each state can be an individual jurisdiction.

Cases of human trafficking may involve the use of privte international laws.
Cases of human trafficking may involve the use of privte international laws.

In general, there are three elements involved in private international law. The first of these is jurisdiction, which determines what court system can handle a cases if given authority by judges. Second to the jurisdiction is the choice of law, the process that decides which set of laws will be used in resolving the case and determining the final verdict. The third element is the foreign judgments, or the agreement to impose the laws coming from a jurisdiction to another jurisdiction.

Conflict cases, or cases that will have to use the private international law, undergo a complex process. The first step allows related courts to decide which jurisdiction should handle the case, after which the cause of action, or the details that justify plaintiffs to make a case against a defendant, will undergo the second stage of characterization or classification. The process of choice of law will then determine which legal system will be used for the case. In order for a law to be applied, attorneys should first prove its applicability, usually by citing a written source such as the US Constitution. Once proof of law is shown, the law can then be enforced, but the winning party should obtain a “cross-border” notice in order for the other party to follow the law even outside the jurisdiction.

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Discussion Comments


I feel like terrorism is something that has more or less of a mutual understanding between countries across the world. When it comes to prosecuting the terrorist they are looking to make sure the terrorist is put away and it is not a matter of pride if they are the ones to do it.

However, there are many instances in which Private International Law is simply a case of whether or not it is worth the trouble to prosecute the individual and if so who is the most appropriate court to do so.

I know that there are Maritime Laws that explain the laws of jurisdiction, but I would like to know of some specific types of cases, except for terrorism, that become issues of Private International Law and how the process worked.


@kentuckycat - I have to question as to whether it is a negotiation between countries. If there are any problems concerning legality in regards to prosecuting an individual then all the countries involved in the matter risk losing the case and allow the individual to walk free.

I imagine that the United States does use their influence on certain matters to try and find a way to prosecute someone they want to, because they know that they will follow through on the matter as opposed to a country with severe problems in their legal system. However, I cannot imagine the United States would risk a terrorist walking free just because they were being prosecuted in a country such as France.

Again, these are very complicated matters and I feel like it is not a negotiation, but more or less a continued type of meeting to decide who should lawfully prosecute. Usually only one country to prosecute and I am sure they look for the most appropriate in regards to legality as opposed to negotiating to prosecute the individual.


I have always wondered instances of terrorism as far as prosecution goes. I have always thought that the United States tries to involve themselves in any matter they can that involves terrorism because they know that they will not be lax on prosecuting the individual.

I think that Private International Law allows countries to coerce with one another and decide who is best to prosecute an individual. I mention the terrorist example because I cannot imagine that a terrorist who committed acts in a lot of countries should be prosecuted in a country that has a hard time enforcing their laws and following through on sentencing.

It certainly seems like Private International Law is a very complicated matter and that it can be more like a negotiation between countries as to who would be most proper to prosecute the individual under their laws.


I have always thought that it was interesting when something occurred in international waters or in areas where the question of jurisdiction is unknown.

I have heard some people state misconceptions as far as jurisdictions go in international cases on the water. Some people say that you can do practically anything in international waters but this is not at all true. If you do something illegal and get caught and it is something that is worthy of prosecution it is a guarantee that the person who committed the illegal act will be prosecuted by someone and Private International Law will be used to figure out who has jurisdiction in the matter.

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    • Cases of human trafficking may involve the use of privte international laws.
      By: Rafael Ben-Ari
      Cases of human trafficking may involve the use of privte international laws.