The renvoi problem

Renvoi literally means a referring back; the problem arises when there is a doubt as to whether a reference in our law (such as Art. 16, par. 2 of the Civil Code) to a foreign law (such as the national law of the deceased). In conflict of laws, renvoi (from the French, meaning "send back" or "to return unopened") is a subset of the choice of law rules and it may be applied whenever a forum court is directed to consider the law of another state.

In the United States most courts try to solve conflict of laws questions without invoking renvoi. In Re Schneider's Estate, 96 N.Y.S.2d 652 (1950), is an example where renvoi is recognized as an option, in which the local court chose to apply the foreign country's laws to decide the dispute in the local court. This is most likely to happen in cases involving immovable property or domestic relationships.

The recognition of the renvoi theory implies that the rules of the conflict of laws are to be understood as incorporating not only the ordinary or internal law of the foreign state or country, but its rules of the conflict of laws as well. According to this theory "the law of a country" means the whole of its law.

The term renvoi includes two notions: the notion of a "return reference," that is, Ruckverweisung, and the notion of a "forward reference," that is, Weiterverweisung. Some of the writers would support the theory of renvoi proper only so far as it involves a return reference. The English and American courts, however, so far as they have recognized the renvoi doctrine, appear to have done so in its wider form, so as to include the possibility of a reference to the law of a third state. (In re Trufort (1887} 36 Ch. D. 6oo; Guernsey v. The Imperial Bank of Canada (Ign, C. C. A.) 188 Fed. 300.)

"The renvoi is in principle a reference back not to the whole law of the foreign country including its clifferent rules of Private International Law, but simply to its internal law. Suppose a case where the lez fori (hereinafter called A) submits the matter to the lez domicilii (B), and B refers the matter back to A as the law of the nationality. A accepts the Renvoi, and applies its own law. If we regard first principles, we see that what has happened is this. Law is primarily sovereign over all matters occurring within the territory, and so A would ordinarily apply to the succession. A from motives of international comity and to. secure a single system of succession, resigns its ordinary jurisdiction to B. But B, by reason of its special juristic conceptions, does not take advantage of the sacrifice or accept jurisdiction. A's primary jurisdiction consequently is properly exercised, and there is no ground for A to decline to accept the renun~ia?on of B, sinc.e it thereby puts ~to operation its fundamental pnnc1ple of regulating every matter w1thin the territory." (Bentwich, Tile Law of Domicile in its Relation to Succession and tile Doctrine of Renvoi (I9II) 184.)