Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Comity Definition:

A principle of international law, that one state, to the greatest extent possible, recognize the legislative, executive or judicial acts of another.

Related Terms: Law of Nations, Letters Rogatory

Comity is often described as comity of nations. It is not a natural state of affairs but born of necessity, as states seek to fully assert their sovereignty and traditionally refuse to recognize or enforce the judicial decisions of others.

Quoting from Morguard:

"... the English courts refused to enforce judgments on contracts, wherever made, unless the defendant was within the jurisdiction of the foreign court at the time of the action or had submitted to its jurisdiction.

"Common interest impels sovereigns to mutual intercourse between sovereign states. In a word, the rules of private international law are grounded in the need in modern times to facilitate the flow of wealth, skills and people across state lines in a fair and orderly manner. However, international trade has brought tremendous pressure to bear."

And so the somewhat loose principle of comity was born, of necessity. Further, these words of Justice Sharlow of Canada's Federal Court of Appeal in 1999 (Connaught Laboratories):

"Comity is the name given to the general principle that encourages the recognition in one country of the judicial acts of another. Its basis is not simply respect for other nations, but convenience and necessity, recognizing the need to facilitate interjurisdictional transactions. ...

"The content of comity must be adjusted in light of a changing world order"

In Hilton v Guyot, Justice Gray of the Supreme Court of the United States wrote:

"No law has any effect, of its own force, beyond the limits of the sovereignty from which its authority is derived. The extent to which the law of one nation, as put in force within its territory, whether by executive order, by legislative act, or by judicial decree shall be allowed to operate within the dominion of another nation depends upon what our greatest jurists have been content to call the comity of nations. Although the phrase has been often criticized, no satisfactory substitute has been suggested.

"Comity, in the legal sense, is neither a matter of absolute obligation, on the one hand, nor of mere courtesy and goodwill, upon the other. But it is the recognition which one nation allows within its territory to the legislative, executive, or judicial acts of another nation, having due regard both to international duty and convenience and to the rights of its own citizens or of other persons was are under the protection of its laws."

This definition was adopted by Justice LaForest of Canada's Supreme Court in Morguard.

Many jurisdictions are improving upon the uncertainty of comity and implementing systems of recognition of each other's judgments by way of bilateral treaty and statute.


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