For the purposes of this research guide, foreign law is the national, domestic, or internal law of countries other than the United States. Comparative law is "the study of the similarities and differences between the laws of two or more countries, or between two or more legal systems. Comparative law is not itself a system of law or a body of rules, but rather a method or approach to legal inquiry." (Berring, How to Find the Law, 9th ed., p 565).
Research methods will vary depending on the country you are researching. To begin, one should:
Understand the structure of the foreign legal system
- Is it a civil law system based upon codes, a common law system (such as the United States), or a mixed system? Is it a legal system based on or influenced by religious law? Is it a legal system built around an old socialist structure?
- For more information on legal systems generally, see Legal Traditions of the World.
- Begin with a source that explains the legal system, such as Foreign Law: Current Sources of Codes and Basic Legislation, Modern Legal Systems Cyclopedia, or Introduction to Foreign Legal System.
- Determine if a specific research guide or overview exists for your country.
Identify exactly what you need
- Are you looking for a constitution, a specific statute, a case, general information?
- Do you have a citation to a law, an article, etc.?
- What are the pertinent dates?
- Do you need the complete text of the law, a summary, an English translation, or a detailed explanation?
- Will an electronic version be sufficient?
Identify the sources of law for the jurisdiction you are researching
- Does the country publish codes, compilations of statutes, or reporters?
- Use a secondary source to start your research. These sources describe the law or legal issue, provide commentary, and put the issue into context.
- A good source for gathering this information is Foreign Law: Current Sources of Codes and Basic Legislation.
Once you have identified the source, consult LawCat or other bibliographic databases to determine if the item is available.
Locating Primary Law
The sources of law can vary from country to country. In civil law systems, statutes and codes are primary law and court decisions are secondary. Keep these concepts in mind when doing foreign law research.
Where to Start
When researching the law of another country, it is important to start with a relevant research guide, bibliography, or some other tool for determining the sources that are available. To locate relevant guides, search LawCat using subject searches: legal research--[country]; law--[country]--bibliography; or law--[country]. Research guides and bibliographies may be contained in journal articles or in a chapter of a more general book.
Relevant guides and sources include:
T. Reynolds & A. Flores, Foreign Law: Current Sources of Codes and Basic Legislation in Jurisdictions of the World (Littleton, CO: Rothman, 1989-) [Reference Desk]. The electronic version of this source is Foreign Law Guide and it is available on the Internet (UCB only). To access from home, be sure to set the proxy settings on your browser. Once the proxy settings have been set, you will be prompted for your CALNET user id and passphrase.
Introduction to Foreign Legal Systems (R.A. Danner and M.H. Bernal, eds., New York: Oceana, 1994).
C. Germain, Germain's Transnational Law Research (Ardsely-on-Hudson, N.Y.: Transnational Juris Publications, 1991-). Country guides focus on Europe.
Modern Legal Systems Cyclopedia (K. Redden ed., Buffalo, NY: W.S. Hein 1984-).
Guide to International Legal Research (6th ed., Salem, NH: Butterworths, 2002-).
International Encyclopedia of Comparative Law (New York: Oceana, 1973-) (see National Reports volumes). Some volumes are a bit dated but still useful.
Szladits, A Bibliography on Foreign and Comparative Law: Books and Articles in English (Dobbs Ferry, NY: Oceana, 1995-).
Accidental Tourist on the New Frontier: An Introductory Guide to Global Legal Research (Littleton, CO: Rothman, 1998).
Information Sources in Law (2nd ed., New Providence, N.J. : Bowker-Saur, 1997). Focus is on Europe.
United Nations, Core Document Forming Part of the Reports of States Parties, U.N. Doc. HRI/Core/1/Add./ (year). This document provides information on the general political structure of states, including basics of the legal system. See this example for the Republic of Korea, U.N. Doc. HRI/Core/1/Add. 125 (2003).
Introductions or Doing Business In ... volumes are very useful places to start. See Doing Business in Mexico, Introduction to Chinese Law, Introduction to Dutch Law, or Doing Business in Brazil.
One of the most important texts to locate when doing foreign and comparative research is a country's constitution. Luckily, this is one of the easier laws to locate in both the vernacular as well as in English.
Constitutions -- [country]
Constitutional history -- [country]
Constitutional law -- [country]
Constitutional courts -- [country]
Selected Collections of Constitutions
These are some of the collections of constitutions available in print. Other constitutions are available in print for specific countries or regions.
Constitutions of the Countries of the World (Blaustein, Albert P. and Gilbert H. Flanz, eds., Dobbs Ferry, NY: Oceana Publications, 1971-). Each chapter provides some historical information, and the older versions help the research track changes to the language. Also available on the web (UCB only). To access from home, be sure to set the proxy settings on your browser. Once the proxy settings have been set, you will be prompted for your CALNET user id and passphrase.
Constitutions of Dependencies and Territories (Dobbs Ferry, NY: Oceana Publications, 1998-).
Constitutions of the World, 1850 to the present [microform] = Verfassungen der Welt, 1850 bis zur Gegenwart (Munich: K.G. Saur Verlag, 2003-). This microfiche set contains past versions of constitutions at the state and federal level, in both the vernacular and English, where possible. It is quite useful for historical research.
Central & East European Legal Materials (Ardsley-on-Hudson, NY: Transnational Juris Publications, 1990-). Contains the constitutions and related laws for Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Czechoslovakia, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Yugoslavia.
Global Constitutional Law Collection (Boxtel, Neth.: Global Law Association & Wolf Legal Publishers, 1996-). Contents: v. 1. Europe: A-Est.; v. 2. Europe: Finland-Liechtenstein; v. 3. Europe: Lithuania-Romania; v. 4. Europe: Russian Federation-Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
There are generally two approaches for looking for foreign law — by subject or by jurisdiction . If you are looking for a specific piece of legislation, the tools mentioned above are very useful. Reynolds and Flores, Foreign Law is particularly useful since it contains a section of laws arranged by subject for each country. Country research guides may not provide guidance for all specific laws, but will provide information on compilations of laws or specific codes. Be sure to look for subject compilations, for example, laws on commercial law would be in a set called Commercial Laws of the World.
T. Reynolds & A. Flores, Foreign Law: Current Sources of Codes and Basic Legislation in Jurisdictions of the World (Littleton, CO: Rothman, 1989-). The electronic version of this source is Foreign Law Guide and it is available on the internet (UCB only). To access from home, be sure to set the proxy settings on your browser. Once the proxy settings have been set, you will be prompted for your CALNET user id and passphrase.
C. Germain, Germain's Transnational Law Research (Ardsely-on-Hudson, NY: Transnational Juris Publications, 1991-). See section 3.01 for lists of subject compilations or the sections on particular topics.
Szladits, A Bibliography on Foreign and Comparative Law: Books and Articles in English (Dobbs Ferry, NY: Oceana, 1995-).
The International Lawyer's Deskbook (2nd ed., L. Law et al. eds, Washington, DC: Section of International Law and Practice, ABA, 2002).
Accidental Tourist on the New Frontier: An Introductory Guide to Global Legal Research (Littleton, CO: Rothman, 1998). Chapter 4 is particularly helpful.
Martindale Hubbell International Law Digest (New Providence, NJ: Martindale-Hubbell, 1993-) [Reference Desk K16 .M388]. Really more of an overview for selected jurisdictions and topics. Also available on LexisNexis.
International Encyclopaedia of Laws (Deventer; Boston: Kluwer Law and Taxation Publishers). Do a LawCat search to identify the various topics (civil procedure, contracts, environmental law, family and succession, social security, etc.), it covers many jurisdictions.
Look for subject compilations, digests, periodicals, such as Tax laws of the World, Commercial Laws of the World, Constitutions of the Countries of the World, Digest of Commercial Laws of the World, China Law and Practice. Foreign Law Guide (and its print equivalent Foreign Law: Current Sources) has an excellent listing of subject compilations under the section called "materials indexed". You can locate periodicals by doing a subject search law -- [country] -- periodicals.
Lexis and Westlaw
While these databases provide exhaustive coverage of American law, they do not provide comprehensive coverage of other jurisdictions. Some of the files coverage statutory law, some cover caselaw, some provide only access to news sources. Be sure to check the scope of coverage for any file on these databases.
Lexis is a pretty good source for the laws of many different countries. Extent of coverage varies from country to country. Some of the countries include Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Brunei, Canada, China & Hong Kong, France, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Northern Ireland, Philippines, Russia, Scotland, Singapore, South Africa, United Kingdom.
Westlaw is building its coverage of foreign law. It contains law for the UK, the European Union, Australia, Argentina, Canada, Hong Kong. The Mexico database contains both English language and Spanish language legal materials. Westlaw also contain news and business information. From the Database Directory, select "International Worldwide Materials" and then the desired region.
English Language Sources
When using translations, keep in mind that they must be used with caution. Usually, they are not authoritative, they may not be up-to-date, and the quality of the translation varies (see 1 Foreign Law: Current Sources of Codes and Basic Legislation in Jurisdictions of the World 13-19).
There are many English language compilations, especially in the areas of taxation, trade commercial and business law. Other areas of law may not have readily available English language translations. Another thing to consider is the date of the translation. Be sure to read the translated version carefully because some compilations may contain only an abstract of the law or an explanation and not the full text of the law. Looseleaf services (sources that are frequently updated) and journals can be a fruitful source for English translations. Foreign Law Guide (and its print equivalent Foreign Law: Current Sources) has a listing of subject compilations under the section called "materials indexed." A nice list of foreign law in English (for a variety of topics) is Sources of International and Foreign Law in English. Note that the call numbers do not apply in our library and this is by no means a complete list of sources. You can locate relevant periodicals by doing a subject search law -- [country] -- periodicals.
Listed below is a sampling of the many English-language sources available. Many of these sources are looseleafs and are updated on a regular basis.
Butterworths International Insolvency Laws (London: Butterworths, 1994).
Constitutions of the Countries of the World (Blaustein, Albert P. and Gilbert H. Flanz, eds.) (Dobbs Ferry, NY: Oceana Publications, 1971-) [BSR K44 .C755]. Also available on the web.Constitutions of Dependencies and Territories (Dobbs Ferry, NY: Oceana Publications, 1998-) former title, Constitutions of Dependencies and Special Sovereignties [K3157.E5 C65 1975].
Citizenship and the State: a Comparative Study of Citizenship Legislation in Israel, Jordan, Palestine, Syria and Lebanon Edition (Berkshire, U.K.: Ithaca Press, 1997) [Asia KF14 .D38].
Commercial laws of Europe (London : European Law Centre, 1978-) [KE15 .C56].
Commercial Laws of the World (Ormond Beach, Fla.: Published for members of the Foreign Tax Law Association, 1976- present) [BSR].
Comparative Environmental Law and Regulation (Dobbs Ferry, NY: Oceana Publications, 1997-) [K57 .C653 1996].
The Global Encyclopaedia of Data Protection Regulation (The Hague Boston Kluwer Law International, 1999-) [K3264.C65 G58].
International Encyclopaedia of Laws (topics vary: civil procedure, contracts, corporations, family law, insurance, etc.).
Investment Laws of the World (Dobbs Ferry, N.Y. : Oceana Publications, 1972-) [KJ697 .I613].
Tax Laws of the World (Ormond Beach, Fla.: Foreign Tax Law Publishers,1964-) [BSR].
Transnational Contracts (Dobbs Ferry, NY: Oceana Publications, 1997-) [K578.C7 D44].
World Arbitration Reporter (Stoneham, MA : Butterworth Legal Publishers, 1986-) [KJ351 .W67].
World Patent Law and Practice (New York: M. Bender, 1974-) [K89 .W9].
By Country or Region
There are some collections of national laws, by country or region, that contain English language translations. Some individual codes and laws are also available in translation.
Central & Eastern European Legal Materials (Ardsley-on-Hudson, NY: Transnational Juris Publications 1990- ) [BSR KE893 1990].
China Laws for Foreign Business ([North Ryde, N.S.W.] : CCH Australia Ltd., 1985-) [BSR Asia KF1681 .C48].
EHS Law Bulletin [Japan] (Tokyo : Eibun-Horei-Sha,) [ASIA KF3285 .E11].
The German Penal Code: as amended as of December 19, 2001 (Buffalo, NY : William S. Hein, 2002) [KK7975.51871 .A52 2002].
Hungarian Rules of Law in Force (Budapest : O"tlet : UNIO, 1990-) [KE1611 .H37].
The Italian Civil code and Complementary Legislation (Dobbs Ferry, N.Y. : Oceana, 1991-) [KE1776.1 1991 .B453].
Russia and the Republics: Legal Materials (Ardsley-on-Hudson, NY : Transnational Juris Publications ; U.K. : Graham & Trotman ; The Netherlands ; Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1992-) [BSR KE4307 .C5 1992].
Selected Topical Websites
In addition to the databases mentioned above, see the following sites for access to foreign law on the web. Note the breadth of subjects covered. Notice that some of the sources below are provided by IGOs, such as FAO, WIPO, ILO, etc. IGOs can be a good source for translated laws and information.
To locate more foreign laws on the web, see the "web guides" mentioned above and Foreign and International Law Resources: An Annotated Guide to Web Sites Around the World (Harvard Law Library) or Foreign Primary Law on the Web (University of Houston Law Library). Some countries do provide selected laws in English, see these same web sites for access to these sources as well.
Where to Start
A good place to find out if the country of interest produces compilations of court decisions is through the sources mentioned in the previous section. Keep in mind that in many countries, court decisions are not considered primary law and there may not be any official publication of decisions. Also, in some countries, only the country's highest court will issue its decisions. Periodicals and journals may be the best source for decisions.
Relevant LawCat subject headings: international law--cases; law reports, digests, etc.--[country]; and [topic]--[country]--cases.
Check the sections on "Court Reports" in T. Reynolds & A. Flores, Foreign Law: Current Sources of Codes and Basic Legislation in Jurisdictions of the World (Littleton, CO: Rothman, 1989-). This section will tell you whether the country issues official reports or if you must look in other sources, such as periodicals.
Lexis contains summaries or the full-text of some case law from Australia, Canada, England, Ireland, Mexico, and a few others. See the Country and Region (excluding US) section on the LEXIS web site.
Westlaw also contain some case reporters for the UK and Europe.
To determine the full title of an unfamiliar abbreviation, try the following resources:
- D. Raistrick, Index to Legal Citations and Abbreviations (2nd ed. New York: Bowker-Saur, 1993) [Reference Desk K89 .R35 1993].
- Noble's Revised International Guide to the Law Reports (Etobicoke, Ont: Nicol Island Publishers, 1998) [Reference Desk K20 .N62 1998].
- Law Reports Searchable by Abbreviation or Title
It important to note that in many countries, legal periodicals act as unofficial sources for case decisions.
Selected Web Sites:
- American Law Sources Online
- CODICES, Constitutional Case Law from Europe (Council of Europe, Venice Commission)
- Legal Materials Around the Globe (Cornell)
- GLAW Project (German Case Law)
- Judicial Institutions of the Americas (Georgetown)
- International Supreme Court Decisions
- NYU's Collection of Foreign Databases by Jurisdiction
- World Law Guide (Courts/Cases)
While there are many publications that translate the text of a foreign law, there are relatively few sources for case law.
International Law Reports (London: Butterworth) [KJ313 .I61 ILR].
International Legal Materials (Washington, DC: American Society of International Law, 1962- ) [KJ5 .I574]. Also available on Hein Online, LEXIS and WESTLAW from 1980 to present.
International Labour Law Reports (Alphen Ann de Rijn: Sijthoff and Noordhoff, 1975-) [KJ741.A12 I57].
Bulletin on Constitutional Case Law (Strasbourg: Venice Commission, 1993-) [K44.A12 B85].
To locate compilations of cases in English, try LawCat searches using relevant subject headings or keyword searches.
Periodicals are an especially good for finding summaries and citations to new case law.
See the "Selected Web Sites" section above.
Other Sources of Law
Secondary legislation, regulations and administrative decisions are often sought after. These sources may be even more elusive than statutory law and caselaw. Start by using the sources mentioned in the above sections. Relevant subject headings include: delegated legislation--[country]. Secondary sources may be another way to track down relevant sources. If a country publishes an official gazette (as most civil law systems do), you have a better chance of locating regulations, notices, circulars, etc. See J. Roberts, A Guide to Official Gazettes and Their Contents (rev. ed., Washington, DC: Law Library, Library of Congress, 1985) or T. Reynolds & A. Flores, Foreign Law: Current Sources of Codes and Basic Legislation in Jurisdictions of the World (Littleton, CO: Rothman, 1989-) for more information.
Citing Foreign Law
Consult The Bluebook, Rule 20 and Table 2, for assistance with citing to foreign law. Unfortunately, not all jurisdictions are listed in Table 2, so follow the general guidelines noted in Rule 20. To locate proper abbreviations, consult Noble's Revised International Guide to the Law Reports, World Dictionary of Legal Abbreviations, or other sources of abbreviations. Some countries have their own citations manuals, such as the Canadian Guide to Uniform Legal Citation (Reference Desk KC199 .C35 2002) or Australian Guide to Legal Citation.
Periodical literature is a good way to obtain background information, locate the text of a foreign law, a citation, or locate information about a subject. To obtain the best results, use periodical indexes to locate relevant articles. For more assistance with locating journal literature, see Sources for Locating Journal Articles. To access the databases labeled UCB only from home, be sure to set the proxy settings on your browser. Once the proxy settings have been set, you will be prompted for your CALNET user id and passphrase.
Index to Foreign Legal Periodicals (London: Institute of Advanced Legal Studies Chicago: American Association of Law Libraries, 1960-) [K2 .I38 IFLP]. Also available on the web (UCB only). A multilingual index to articles and book reviews appearing in approximately 492 legal journals published worldwide, except those from the U.S., the U.K., Canada, and Australia.
Index to Legal Periodicals and Books (New York: H.W. Wilson Co.) [Reading Room K2 .I38 ILP]. Also available on LEXIS (LAWREV library, ILP file) and WESTLAW (ILP) (Boalt only). This is the only print index with good historical coverage. Covers 925 legal journals, yearbooks, institutes, bar association organs, law reviews, and government publications originating in the United States, Canada, Great Britain, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand.
Legal Journals Index (Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire: Legal Information Resources Ltd., 1986-1999). The print was discontinued in 1999, but the current version is available on WESTLAW (LJI) (Boalt only). Indexes approximately 485 journals from the UK & Europe. Coverage is from 1986 on.
Legal Resource Index. Available on LEXIS (LAWREV library, LGLIND file) and WESTLAW (LRI). Also available on from the Law Library's homepage as LegalTrac (UCB only). The print equivalent is called Current Law Index (Los Altos, CA: Information Access Corp.,1980-) [Reading Room K2 .C8]. Indexes over 850 journals from the United States, Canada, Great Britain, New Zealand and Australia.
PAIS International (New York: Public Affairs Information Service, 1991- ) [print version available in main library]. Also available on the web (UCB only). Provides international coverage of materials in government, international relations, legislation, political science, statistics, and related areas.
Szladits, A Bibliography on Foreign and Comparative Law: Books and Articles in English (Dobbs Ferry, NY: Oceana, 1995-) [K520 .S9]. An excellent source for locating English-language articles and books.
RAVE — Research of articles and decisions in Public International Law and European Law.
There are a variety of databases that provide access to full-text journal articles (UCB only). Some of these databases include LEXIS, WESTLAW, UCB Indexes and Abstracts, and the California Digital Library. Try searching MELVYL to determine if a journal is available electronically.
Other databases that compile a variety of sources (newsletters, news articles, reports) can be good places to find the text of a law, a summary, or an explanation. Some good sources for these kinds of materials include, GenderWatch, Ethnic NewsWatch, World News Connection, and INT-NEWS on Westlaw (UCB only).
Dictionaries and Abbreviations
To locate bilingual or polyglot dictionaries with English as one of the languages, use the following subject headings:
law--[country or region]--dictionaries
[subject]--dictionaries--[language or polyglot]
Dahl's French-English Law Dictionaryand Dahl's Spanish-English Law Dictionary [Reference Desk]. These are also available on Lexis.
West's Law and Commercial Dictionary in Five Languages: Definitions of the Legal and Commercial Terms and Phrases of American, English and Civil Law Jurisdictions (St. Paul, MN: West, 1985) [Reference Desk K54 .W47 1985].
World Dictionary of Legal Abbreviations (Buffalo, NY: W.S. Hein, 1991-) [Reference Desk K89 .K38].
Your Dictionary.com. Online dictionaries in many languages.
Often you will need other information about a country, such as its GDP, its political leaders, literacy rates, etc. There are many print and electronic sources for this information.
The Statesman's Year-Book (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1864-). [Reference Desk K5 .S797]
The World Almanac and Book of Facts (New York: Newspaper Enterprise Association) [Reference Desk K5 .W927]
The World Factbook (Washington, DC: Central Intelligence Agency) [Reference Desk K5 .W67]. Also available on the web.
The Europa World Year Book (London: Europa Publications, 1989-) [Reference Desk K5 .E89]