Definition of lex situs
The term lex situs (Latin) refers to the law of the place in which property is situated for the purposes of the conflict of laws. For example, property may subject to tax pursuant to the law of the place of the property or by virtue of the domicile of its owner. Conflict is the branch of public law regulating all lawsuits involving a "foreign" law element where a difference in result will occur depending on which laws are applied.
When a case comes before a court and all the main features of the case are local, the court will apply the lex fori, the prevailing municipal law, to decide the case. But if there are "foreign" elements to the case, the forum court may be obliged under the conflict of laws system to consider:
- whether the forum court has jurisdiction to hear the case;
- it must then characterise the issues, i.e. allocate the factual basis of the case to its relevant legal classes; and
- then apply the choice of law rules to decide which law is to be applied to each class.
The lex situs is a choice of law rule applied to identify the lex causae for cases involving title to, or the possession and use of property. In law, there are two types of property:
- Real property is land or any permanent feature or structure above or below the surface. Ownership of land is an aspect of the system of real property or realty in common law systems (immovables in civil law systems and the conflict of laws).
- All other property is considered personal property or personalty in common law systems (movables in civil law systems and the conflict of laws), and this property is either tangible or intangible, i.e. it is either physical property that can be touched like a computer, or it is an enforceable right like a patent or other form of intellectual property.
Properly speaking, the term lex situs is applied only to immovable property and lex loci rei sitae ought to be used when referring to the law of the situs of movable property but this distinction is less common today and is ignored for the purposes of the conflict pages on the Wikipedia. Land has traditionally represented one of the most important cultural and economic forms of wealth in society. Because of this historical significance, it is vital that any judgment affecting title to or the use of the land should be enforceable with the minimum of difficulty. Hence, compliance with the lex situs should produce a judgment in rem. The choice of law rules are as follows:
- immovables, by definition, do not move and so the identification of the lex situs will not present a problem in the majority of cases;
- because movables may be portable, the lex situs is the law of the state in which the personalty is resident at the time the case is heard.
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