Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Reciprocity Definition:

A term of international treaties by which two or more states agree to extend to the other's citizens specified legal rights on the same standing as its own citizens.

Formal reciprocity, more generally known as national treatment, represents the most common and pure form of reciprocity. In this model, a host country gives the foreign nationals of the other state the same treatment in law as it would for its own nationals; without distinction, therefore, as to nationality.

There are two other, rarer types of reciprocity.

Material reciprocity, also known as mutuality, is where a host state agrees to extend to foreign nationals the same legal rights that the foreign government extends to its own citizens inside its state. In other words, mutuality between Canada and Turkey would mean that a Turkish citizen in Canada could expect the courts in Canada to enforce Turkish law as concerning that Turkish citizen in Canada.

Material reciprocity is rare as it creates an impossible situation for other citizens of the host country, and requires the courts of the host country to rule based on foreign law. An example of this is matrimonial property law or estate law in regards to real property for which the common law often defers to the law of the foreign country where the marriage occurred or where the estate asset is situated.

The final variety of reciprocity in international treaties is home-country rule in which a host country allows the law enforcement tentacles of a foreign national to regulate that foreign national even as regards to his conduct in the host country. This requires the host country to give up its jurisdiction over a person operating within its borders; something both unusual and rare. An example might be found in the occasional treatment of diplomats suspected of a crime in the host country. When a diplomat commits a crime, he or she is often deported to face justice in their home land, as opposed to prosecution in the country in which the crime occurred.


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