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What is the Enforcement of Foreign Judgments?

By K. Wascher
Updated May 17, 2024
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The enforcement of foreign judgments is a legal principle that mandates that a judicial decision made in one jurisdiction will be honored in another jurisdiction. The jurisdictions can be of a domestic or international nature involving regions or nations. In order for the enforcement of foreign judgments principle to apply, both jurisdictions involved will generally be bound by an agreement, treaty, or provisions of international law.

Domestic enforcement of foreign judgments occurs when the judicial authority in one region rules on a case and a party in a separate region seeks to enforce the judgment set forth in the initial region. This commonly occurs in civil cases where one party is ordered to pay restitution or damages to another. If the obligated party attempts to evade the judgment by fleeing the region, the judgment may still be enforced in the region the debtor flees to. This principle has been adopted by regions in many countries to ensure a unified system of law and judgments. It also prevents debtors and criminals from escaping the consequences of a judgment merely by moving to a different region.

International enforcement of foreign judgments occurs when two countries have entered into a treaty or have adopted certain provisions of international law that provide for honoring a judicial decision made in a different county. This principle is commonly engaged with criminal defendants who flee a country to avoid prosecution. Under the provisions set forth under an enforcement of foreign judgments agreement, a criminal defendant would be extradited to the county where the criminal act took place. It is possible for foreign civil judgments to be enforced as well. Under the United Nations Contract for the International Sale of Goods (CISG), participating countries must honor judicial determinations made pursuant to international law.

As a general rule, in order to initiate the process of enforcing a foreign judgment, the plaintiff or complaining party must file a copy of the judgment or decision that was made in the original jurisdiction with a court in the foreign jurisdiction. For example, the Virgin Islands, District of Columbia, and 47 states in the United States concur with the Uniform Enforcement of Foreign Judgments Act of 1986. In order to comply with the act, a copy of the original judgment must be registered with the clerk of the courts in the related jurisdiction, along with an affidavit containing essential information.

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