The English conflict of laws is a body of rules whose purpose is to assist an English court in deciding a case which contains a foreign element. It consists of three main topics, which concern respectively: (i) the jurisdiction of an English court, in the sense of its competence to hear and determine a case; (ii) the selection of the appropriate rules of a system of law, English or foreign, which it should apply in deciding a case over which it has jurisdiction (the rules governing this selection are known as 'choice of law' rules); and (iii) the recognition and enforcement of judgments rendered by foreign courts or awards of foreign arbitrations.
If the case contains no foreign element, the conflict of laws is irrelevant. If an Englishman and woman who are both British citizens, domiciled and resident in England, go through a ceremony of marriage in England and later, when they are both still domiciled and resident here, the wife petitions an English court for a divorce, no foreign element is involved. No problem of jurisdiction arises and any questions about the validity of the marriage or the grounds upon which a divorce can be granted, as well as any procedural or evidential matters, are all governed by English law alone. The same is true if two Englishmen in England contract here for the sale and purchase of goods to be delivered from Oxford to Cambridge with payment in sterling in London, and the seller later sues the buyer and serves him with a writ in England.
But if we vary the facts and suppose that in the first example at the time the wife petitions for divorce the husband is domiciled and resident in France, and that the ceremony had taken place in France and the husband argues that it did not comply with the requirements of French law so that there is no marriage to dissolve, the conflict of laws becomes relevant. The husband's absence raises the question of the court's jurisdiction, and his argument raises that of whether French or English law is to determine the validity of the marriage.