Difference Between Domestic and International Law

Domestic vs International Law

Identifying the difference between domestic law and international law is relatively simple, if you understand what each term refers to. In deed, the terms ‘Domestic Law’ and ‘International Law’ are not unfamiliar to many of us, particularly those of us acquainted with the field of law. The term ‘Domestic’ suggests something that is local or home-grown. On the other hand, the term ‘International’ is easily understood to mean something that is global or something that goes beyond national or domestic boundaries. With this basic idea in mind, let us take a closer look at the exact definitions of the two terms.

What is Domestic Law?

Domestic Law is generally defined to mean the internal law of a nation. It is also referred to as Municipal Law or National Law and comprises the law governing the behaviour and conduct of individuals and organizations within a country. Domestic Law includes local laws and rules, such as those that govern towns, cities, districts or provinces within a country.

Difference Between Domestic and International Law

Health Care Bill being signed in to a Domestic Law

The distinct feature of Domestic Law is its method of enforcement. It is typically enforced through the three main mechanisms of a state, namely the legislature, executive and the judiciary. The legislature enacts the law while the judiciary ensures compliance by imposing sanctions for non-compliance. Simply put, those who do not obey or comply with Domestic Law will be punished in accordance with the law by a court or judicial body. Domestic Law is mostly comprised of Statutes or Acts of Parliament and also includes accepted customs.

What is International Law?

Generally, International Law refers to a body of rules that govern the relations between nations. If Domestic Law governs the behaviour of individuals within a state, International Law governs the behaviour and conduct of states. International Law serves as the fundamental structure within which states and other international actors conduct their international relations. The key feature of International Law is that it is a body of law that is recognised and accepted by nations as binding on their relations with other nations. Unlike Domestic Law, it is not enacted by a legislative body. Instead, International Law is composed of treaties, agreements, conventions, accords, protocols, judicial decisions, and customs. Among these, treaties and conventions constitute the primary components of International Law that govern relations between nations and other international actors.

Difference Between Domestic and International Law

Permanent Court of International Justice

In contrast to Domestic Law, the enforcement of International Law is generally based on the consent and acceptance of states. Thus, a nation can choose not to accept and comply with the rules of a convention or treaty. However, in practice, states are often under obligation to comply with certain rules in International law such as customs and peremptory norms. Keep in mind that International Law too has a judicial body in the form of the International Court of Justice. However, unlike courts within a nation, the International Court of Justice resolves disputes or issues between states. It does not impose punishment in the same manner as courts under Domestic Law. International Law has today expanded to include rules that govern the rights and obligations between individuals and organizations of nations, also known as Private International Law. Thus, rules governing the relations between states typically fall within the purview or discipline of Public International Law.

What is the difference between Domestic and International Law?

• Domestic Law governs the behaviour and conduct of individuals within a nation.

• International Law governs the conduct and behaviour of nations in the international system. It also serves as a vital structure that guides the foreign relations of nations.

• Domestic Law is created, enacted and adjudicated by the three main organs of the nation, namely, the legislature, executive and the judiciary.

• In contrast, International Law is not created by any particular body. Instead, it is made up of treaties, conventions, customs, peremptory norms and other formal agreements between states.

• Violation of Domestic Law entails serious consequences such as punishment. However, in the case of International Law, states can choose to ratify or refrain from ratifying and accepting certain rules in the form of treaties or conventions.


Images Courtesy: 

  1. President Obama Signing The Health Care Bill by Keith Ellison (CC BY 2.0) via Wikimedia Commons
  2. Court of International Justice via Wikicommons (Public Domain)