Foreign law defines the role of governments to the people they govern and controls relationships between people. It may regulate foreign persons and entities, but it does not have effect outside the boundaries of a nation. You will use the same basic research strategy you use to find U.S. law.
The UC Hastings Foreign Law Research Guide was specifically created to help you find the laws of foreign countries using resources available through UC Hastings Law Library. These resources include print materials available in the library, online materials available through Lexis, Westlaw, other databases accessible through UC Hastings, and generally available internet resources.
There are a number of excellent Internet sources available for locating foreign law. A few of the best websites are listed below.
Foreign law is not the same as international law. Foreign law is the law of an individual foreign country or, in some instances, of an identifiable group of foreign countries that have a common legal system or a common set of rules in a particular field of law. For a concise analysis of foreign law versus international law see, "Is Foreign Law International Law?," ASIL Insight, October 31, 2005, by Frederic L. Kirgis.
This is a generic guide; if the Library has a more specific guide for the jurisdiction you want, use that guide instead of this one.
UC Hastings Law Library has created the following Research Guides:
- Introduction to Chinese Legal Research
- International & Comparative Law Research Guide
- Iraq Legal Research
Law library websites often include country or subject based research guides that list both print and internet resources. If you want a foreign law guide that is specific to your jurisdiction or subject, you can do an internet search using the country name and the terms "legal research" or "research guide". Similarly, for a specific subject, try the same terms, "legal research" or "research guide" and [subject] e.g. copyright law.
Most of the law from non-English speaking jurisdictions is not translated into English. When you approach a research topic on foreign or comparative law, you should first use English language secondary sources to acquaint yourself with the characteristics of a foreign legal system. If you can, you should then look at secondary sources in the language of the country whose legal system you are researching. As well as giving you substantive information, foreign language secondary sources, such as treatises, encyclopedias and articles, are a good way to familiarize yourself with the vocabulary used for legal concepts.
When using English 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 may vary.
There are many English language compilations of foreign legislation, especially in the areas of taxation, trade, commercial and business law. Other areas of law may not have readily available English language translations. Looseleaf services and journals can be a fruitful source for English translations.
Non-English speaking foreign countries, may not have official translations of primary sources of law. However for some foreign jurisdictions, you may be able to find , in print, unofficial English translations of a constitution, codes of civil and criminal procedure, laws of environment, health, family, banking, taxation, social security, intellectual property, bankruptcy (insolvency), commerce, labor, etc. For some countries, comparable electronic resources may exist online.
Foreign law is the national (also referred to as domestic or internal) law of any country other than the United States. Research methods will vary depending on the country you are researching but you will use the same basic research strategy that you use to find U.S. law.
Step 1. Determine and Understand the structure of the foreign legal system
a. Figure out what kind of legal system?
- You may not need to become an expert on the legal system of the country, but it is very helpful to know the basics. It is also sometimes necessary or useful to have general background information on the country.
- Is it a civil law system based upon codes, a common law system (such as the United States) or a mixed system. Some legal systems are influenced by religious law or by an old socialist structure. See the JuriGlobe site for a quick way to determine the type of legal system for a particular country.
- For more information on legal systems generally, see Legal Traditions of the World Sustainable Diversity in Law, K559 .G54 2010, by Patrick H. Glenn.
b. To start your research, begin with a secondary source that explains the legal system, such as:
- Modern Legal Systems Cyclopedia K530 .M62 (Provides general information about countries' legal systems. Updated regularly)
- Introduction to Foreign Legal Systems K583 .I57 1994.
Step 2. Determine Relevant Country Background Information
- Often you will need other information about a country, such as its GDP, its political leaders, literacy rates, etc. There are many electronic and print sources for this information.
- Detailed reports on a country's economy, commerce, finances and other related information.
- Information on geography, people, government, economy, military and other topics for the countries of the world.
Step 3. Determine and know where to find the sources of law for the country.
- Now that you have a basic understanding of the legal system you are researching, you need to identify the sources of law for the country, and determine whether the country has a current published set of these laws. Does the country publish codes, compilations of statutes, or case reporters?
- The usual starting point is Thomas H. Reynolds & Arturo A. Flores, Foreign Law Guide: Current Sources of Codes and Basic Legislation in Jurisdictions of the World (by subscription). This database is arranged by country, and provides a brief introduction to the legal system in addition to listing current codes and laws. Also, it identifies available English translations.
- The Law Library of Congress's Global Legal Information Catalog helps identify publications that cover foreign law organized by subject and by countries. Use the search mechanism to get a list of titles, then search for the titles in the catalog to see whether the Law Library owns them. If the law library does not own them, you can still search in WorldCat available through FirstSearch and request books through ILL.
a. Now that you know where to find all the information you might need, figure out what specifically you do need.
- Do you need the constitution, a specific statute, a case, general information, the complete text of the law, a summary, an English translation, or a detailed analysis and explanation. Will an electronic version be sufficient, or must it be print?
b. Now that you know what you need, how will you find it?
- What information do you have that will enable you to find what you need within the available sources? You need to identify available secondary sources as well as primary ones. Do you have a citation to the law, article, etc.? What are the dates?
- Once you have identified the source, consult the library catalog and WorldCat available through FirstSearch to determine if the item is available.
- If you need a code and you have the name of the code, try using part, or all of the name in a keyword search and a title search.
- For research on smaller and more obscure countries, or for a region, try a key word search and a title search with the name of the country or region and the word "law" will bring up secondary materials analyzing the relevant law. eg. Latin American Law. Be aware that some countries have changed their names; you should search under both names.
- You can also try a subject search using the broad area of law followed by the country name e.g., criminal law Canada. Available subject headings include administrative law, civil law, civil procedure, commercial law, contracts, criminal law, criminal procedure, labor laws and legislation, real property, securities, and taxation law and legislation. Some narrower topics are included; e.g., antitrust law Middle East. (Not every country will have materials indexed under every subject heading.)
- If you need something not covered by the subject headings above, try a keyword search: e.g., Australia privacy. You may want to add a question mark at the end of the country name to capture its use as an adjective-e.g., Australia? or Japan? or repeat the keyword search with variants of the name-e.g., copyright law China, Chinese copyright law.
- If you are looking for a print guide on legal research in a particular country, try a subject search like: Legal research -- Australia. Research guides and bibliographies may be contained in journal articles or in a chapter of a more general book. Guide to International Legal research, (KZ1234 .G85 latest edition at Reference Desk.) This guide includes information on foreign legal research.
UC Hastings Foreign Law Subscription Databases:
- Oceana: Countries of the World; Dependencies and Territories
- Index to Foreign Legal Periodicals
- Index to Legal Periodicals and Books
- Lawtel -- Index to current United Kingdom and European Union Articles, and electronic collection of UK and EU practice materials, case law, proposed and adopted legislation, treaties, commission reports and notices. [For Hastings Students, Staff and Faculty only.]
- Westlaw China -- Comprehensive source of current legal information for the People's Republic of China. Includes authoritative English translations of statutes, judicial interpretations, cases, arbitration awards and other legal matters. Also includes secondary sources, weekly updates, and legal news. A legal database for the People's Republic of China, iSinolaw includes legislation and regulations, case, arbitration awards and legal news. [For Hastings Students, Staff and Faculty only.]
- Foreign Law Guide -- This is a major source of information on the sources of law for many foreign jurisdictions. It provides information on how to find current print and online sources of codes and basic legislation in jurisdictions throughout the world. [For Hastings Students, Staff and Faculty only.] It provides the researcher with relevant information on sources of foreign law, including complete bibliographic citations to legislation, the existence of English translations whenever possible, and selected references to secondary sources in English.
Both LexisNexis and Westlaw contain legal databases for a variety of countries. Coverage varies widely from country to country. Some of the databases dedicated to foreign law are listed below. You should consult the LexisNexis and Westlaw database directories lists for a complete list with detailed descriptions, bearing in mind that the databases on the list change often enough to merit occasionally checking for new databases. Sometimes, databases are not current. To figure out when the database was last updated, check the green lowercase "i" on Westlaw , and click on the lowercase "i" on Lexis.
LexisNexis: Legal materials for other countries are listed under GLOBAL LEGAL. They include databases for about 30 countries including: Argentina (codes and laws, in Spanish, but only through 1997), Australia (cases), Brunei (cases), Canada (cases, laws, regulations), England and Wales (cases, laws, regulations), EU (cases, laws, regulations, and other materials, mostly in English), France (some laws, in French), Hong Kong (cases, laws, regulations), Hungary (laws, 1990-2002), India (cases, ending in 2004), Ireland (cases), Italy (selected laws, 1991-, some cases; all in Italian), Malaysia (cases, laws), Mexico (cases; Diario Oficial from Oct. 2005; civil, commercial, and penal codes and laws; some states' laws and regulations; all in Spanish), New Zealand (cases), Northern Ireland (cases), Russia (selected business laws, older laws), Scotland (cases, regulations), Singapore (cases), South Africa (cases, laws), UK (cases, laws, regulations).
Westlaw provides databases for fewer countries, including the following: Australia (cases), Hong Kong (cases, laws), Bermuda and the Cayman Islands (insurance statutes and regulations), Canada (cases, laws, regulations; Quebec statutes in French and English), EU (cases, laws, and other materials, mostly in English), Mexico (some laws, in Spanish), UK (cases, laws, regulations).
Contents of the individual databases vary widely.
The library does not generally collect current primary source materials (codes, statutes, regulations, court decisions, jurisprudence). However, foreign law primary materials are still accessible through UC Hastings Law Library's inter library loan, subscription databases, and other online resources.
Scholarly treatises in English are collected for Australia, Canada, UK, Europe, Latin America and Commonwealth countries. The library collects mainly in English, but also in French, German, Spanish, Italian and Russian, Chinese and Japanese. The collection is not strong for Africa, except for English materials on South Africa.
In the 5th floor stacks you will find secondary sources of foreign law such as the International encyclopaedia of laws. This regularly updated encyclopedia contains summaries written by attorneys on subject areas of law in different countries. So for instance, you could find overviews of civil procedure in some but not all countries.
Although the International encyclopaedia of laws deals with many different legal subjects, many of the secondary sources will focus on one area of law and are organized by country. For instance, the Encyclopedia of international commercial litigation and the Digest of commercial laws of the world are both organized according to country and although the actual text of the code is not reprinted, there is an English overview of the relevant laws in many but not all countries.
There are many treatises on various subject areas of law by country. You can browse the stacks or the catalog in the general call number area of KG to KW and find relevant books.
Country topical reporters, treatises and guides may contain or cite legislation.
Yearbooks of different countries contain not only laws but also important cases.
Some secondary sources have online as well as print versions such as:
Constitutions of the countries of the world : historic constitutions K3157.A2 B55 This contains only the unofficial English translations of the text of the constitutions.
- Books beginning with "Introduction to..." and "Doing Business in..." are very useful places to start. Some examples include Doing business in Brazil KHD333.B86 D64 2002, Doing Business with China HF3834 .D65 1998, and Introduction to Belgian law KJK68 .I58 2001. Search the library catalog for more options. The Doing Business in ... series provides summaries or translations of business and business-related laws of a foreign jurisdiction such as civil codes, copyright laws, labor laws, etc.
- International Lawyer's Deskbook, 2nd edition., K559 . I57 2002, edited by Lucinda A. Low, Daniel M. Drory, Patrick Norton.
- If your question is fairly simple, try Martindale-Hubbell International Law Digest. This volume, updated yearly, provides short summaries of countries' laws under standard topics
- To find a Law Digest in a particular jurisdiction, go to Search Groups & Topics and enter "Law Digest" followed by the name of the jurisdiction you are looking to find into the keyword search field. eg. "Law Digest Japan".
Indexes to Journal Articles:
Subject Specific Metapages and Regional Sources
- Legislation Online by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, is an excellent site which provides full-text legislation in several subject areas. The site is limited to laws from Eastern and Western European countries only, and the subject matter is limited to laws in areas such as elections, immigration, human rights, independence of the judiciary, policing and prisons.
- Regional Sources of Foreign Law compiled by Harvard Law Library
- Agriculture: FAOLEX UN’s collection of national laws on food, agriculture, energy, and renewable natural resources.
- Antitrust/Competition law:International Bar Association, Global Competition Forum Laws in English or the vernacular.
- Banking: Global Banking Law Database , banking laws from various countries, either in English or the vernacular.
- Bankruptcy: The World Bank's Global Insolvency Law Database
- Citizenship/Nationality: The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees' REFWORLD website has a database of laws on citizenship and nationality. To access the database go to the "Browse By Topics" page on the REFWORLD web site and select Citizenship Laws.
- Commercial/business law: Transnational Law Database (Center for Transnational Law (CENTRAL), Westfaelische Wilhelms-Universitaet, Muenster, Germany; sponsored by the Ministry of Schools, Science and Research of North Rhine-Westphalia) Covers international contract law and international commercial arbitration.
- Country Commercial Guides (Commerce Department): Business climate information along with skeletal information about relevant legal constraints. Click on the "Market Research Library" link to get to the search screen and then select "Country Commercial Guides" under the "Report Type" field.
- International Centre for Not-for-Profit Law Online Library: Laws are arranged by country and include tax laws, laws of association, procurement, employment and other topics.
- The National Law Center for Inter-American Free Trade Site owners also publish the Inter-American Trade Report (see under "Periodicals," above). Contains English translations of trade and business laws of Latin American countries; however, most of the content is fee-based.
- Global Banking Law Database Provided by the World Bank Group and the International Monetary Fund. Contains full texts of laws in English translation on banking and many related financial and corporate law topics. Has at least some materials for the following countries: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Czech Republic, European Union, France, Germany, Indonesia, Kenya, Kuwait, Latvia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Romania, Russia, Singapore, Slovak Republic, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, Tunisia, Turkey, and the U.S.
- Constitutions: International Constitutional Law (ICL) (in most cases, provides English translations).
- Constitution Finder (provides links; constitutions may be in vernacular).
- Criminal law:Criminal Law Resources on the Internet From the Buffalo Criminal Law Center.
- U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime - Legal Library (UNODC) Provides narcotics laws, in English, French or Spanish, for many countries.
- Cyberlaw/privacy: Privacy and Human Rights Sponsored by Privacy International. Country reports contain information on national laws, cases and issues.
- Environmental protection: Ecolex: A Gateway to Environmental Law Select "Legislation" to search for national or provincial legislation.
- European Environmental Laws, T.M.C. Asser Institute. Laws in English or the vernacular. Mostly Western Europe; some Eastern European country materials.
- Family law: State Department's Private International Law page on Family Law.
- Human rights/humanitarian law: International Humanitarian Law(IHL) database. From the International Committee of the Red Cross. Contains national laws implementing humanitarian law; also includes some national cases.
- MINELRES Directory of resources on minority human rights and related problems of the transition period in Eastern and Central Europe; includes some national laws in English and original languages. Topics include Citizenship, Education, Media/Telecommunications, Elections/Political Parties, Labor, Penal/Criminal Law, Cultural Autonomy, Language, Minorities/Ethnic Groups, Constitution, and Aliens.
- Intellectual property: National Copyright Legislation This UNESCO site provides full-text laws from some member states.
- Collection of Laws for Electronic Access (CLEA). Provided by WIPO, this site provides text of IP laws from various countries.
- Labor: NATLEX Provided by the International Labour Organization (ILO), this site has labor laws, or summaries of laws, from a large collection of countries. Some are in English.
The UC Hastings Law Library has a strong print collection of official and unofficial historically relevant primary source materials for England, Australia, Canada.
Primary sources for England include historical and current statutes and case law. These can be found on the 5th floor with call numbers beginning with KD.
Primary sources for Canada include statutes, and case law. These can be found on the 5th floor between call numbers KE and include the following:
Statutes of Canada:
- Historical statutes: The revised statutes of Canada, 1952 KE89 1952
- Current statutes: Revised statutes of Canada, 1985 KE89 1985 (These are updated by the Canada Gazette KE91 .C2 ).
- The Canadian Abridgment KE173 .C35 1966 (This is a digest of reported decisions of the Supreme and Exchequer Courts of Canada, and of all the courts of the Common Law provinces, including appeals to the Privy Council and also decisions from the courts of Quebec of universal application)
- For help understanding how to find cases in the Canadian abridgment, see Guide to research using The Canadian abridgment : instructional manual & workbook KE173 .C36 1990
- For help citing Canadian statutes: Canada statute citator KE106 .C25 1989
- If you need further assistance with Canadian legal research, you might want to look to Canadian law library websites, many of which will have more detailed research guides such as this one from Bora Laskin Law Library, at the University of Toronto.
UC Hastings has no current primary law for Australia in print (books and microform). Historical primary law includes the following:
Historical Statutes of Australia (Print Only):
- Acts of the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia KU13 .A97
- The statutes of the Commonwealth of Australia KU14 .A97
- Commonwealth statutory rules & a collection of rules of court, regulations under statutes, by-laws, orders-in-council, proclamations, etc., of practical utility to the legal profession KU17 .A97 1901 (1901- 1956)
- Statutory rules from 1901 to 1927 made under Commonwealth acts: and in force on 31st December 1927, also prerogative orders, etc. with tables and index KU17.5 .A97 1928 (1901-1927)
Historical Cases of Australia (Print Only):
- The Argus law reports (1895 - 1959) KU18 .A73
- continued by
- Australian argus law reports (1960-1972) KU18 .A731
- continued by
- Australian law reports (1974 - 1994) KU18 .A732
Secondary (print ) sources of Australian Law include the following:
- An index-digest with table of reported cases in the Commonwealth law reports, volumes 1-100 (1903-1959) (6th stacks - KU18 .A973 1903-1959).
- The Australian digest (6th stacks - KU23 .A97 1825).
- Understanding the Australian legal system (6th stacks - KU72 .G54 1997).
- Finding the law: guide to Australian secondary sources of legal information by Colin Fong & Graham Ellis (6th stacks - KU47 .F56 1990).
- Australian courts of law by James Crawford & Brian Opeskin (6th stacks - KU3411 .C73 2004).
- Australian constitutional law : foundations and theory by Suri Ratnapala (6th stacks - KU1750 .R38 2012).
- Australian civil procedure by B.C. Cairns (6th stacks - KU700 .C35 2005).
- Indigenous legal issues : commentary and materials (6th stacks - KU519.I64 I53 2003).
- Migration and refugee law in Australia : cases and commentary by Mirko Bagaric (6th stacks - KU2144 .M54 2007).
- Australian intellectual property law by Mark J. Davison, Ann L. Monotti & Leanne Wiseman (6th stacks - KU1100 .D38 2008).
See Step 4b for strategic search tips for finding foreign law resources in the UC Hastings catalog.
- The Australian Guide to Legal Citation is available as a read only pdf online or in print at the reference desk (KU48 .A97 1998).
- Australian legal citation : a guide by Colin Fong (6th stacks - KU48 .F66 1998).
- Australian guide to uniform legal citation by Pearl Rozenberg (reference desk - KU48 .R69 1998).
The best guide to foreign legal citation is probably New York University's Guide to Foreign and International Legal Citations Ref. K89.G85 2009 (illustrates the internal citation system of each jurisdiction that it covers).
The Bluebook (18th ed., 2005) KF245 .U5 2010 (Circ. Desk), Rule 20 (foreign materials) and Table 2 (list of foreign jurisdictions in alphabetical order). Not all jurisdictions are listed in Table 2, but you can still follow the general guidelines noted in Rule 20.To locate proper abbreviations, consult Noble's Revised International Guide to the Law Reports K38 .N63 (Reference Desk), World Dictionary of Legal Abbreviations K89 .K38, or other sources of abbreviations.
If you have questions, please feel free to contact the UC Hastings Law Library reference desk.
Please remember that not all laws are translated into English, many are not official or authoritative, and they are not always accurate or up to date. Here are some of the best foreign law websites:
- Foreign Government Resources on the Web -- This is a webpage at the University of Michigan Library Documents Center and has links to Foreign Government Web Sites as well as Related Foreign Information such as Embassies, News, Statistics, and International Agencies.
- Foreign Law: Legal Research Resources on the Internet -- This is from the University of Chicago. It has not been updated since 2002 but has good starting places for Child and Children topics such as Child Refugees and Child Labor. (Also see the Selected Foreign Laws webpage maintained by University of Chicago.)
- GLIN - Global Legal Information Network - GLIN is a project of the Library of Congress which includes citations and some full text laws to many countries.
- GlobalCourts.com Supreme Court decisions in 105 countries, or at least a way to find them.
- GlobaLex: Foreign Law Guides published by the Hauser Global Law School Program at NYU School of Law. Links to frequently updated research guides for about 45 countries.
- Government Documents Department Foreign Government Resources -- Housed at the University of Florida. Great for finding Ministries and Departments, and National Services.
- -- From LLRX.com, a web journal that publishes articles and research guides written by nationally recognized law librarians and attorneys.
- Guide to Law Online -- From the Law Library of Congress. Click on a country to find links to the Constitution, Executive, Judicial, Legislative, Legal Guides and General Sources.
- Government Gazettes Online University of Michigan Library Gov Documents Center
- Institute of Global Law from the University College London. French and German materials in the fields of constitutional, administrative, contract and tort law
- Jurist: World Law
- LLRX has a collection of Comparative and Foreign Law Country Guides to foreign legal materials. Not all countries are represented.
- Martindale.com Law Digests
- The Law Library of Congress's Multinational Collections Database helps identify publications that cover foreign law on particular subjects or for particular countries.
- Nations of the World (Lib. of Congress)
- World Legal Information Institute (WorldLII) World Legal Information Institute's collection of 545 databases from 55 countries. Access legal materials, including selective legislation, from 86 countries.
- Basic Guide to Researching Foreign Law – An excellent place to start learning about foreign law research.
- Cornell University Law Library Research Guides
- Duke Law: Research Guide, Foreign & Comparative Law
- Georgetown Law Library: Foreign & Comparative Law Research Guide
- Harvard Law Library: Foreign Law Gateways
- NYU Law: Guide to Foreign and International Legal Databases
- Osgoode Hall Law School York University: Foreign and Comparative law Guide
- The University of Maryland School of Law, Thurgood Marshall Law Library: International and Foreign Law Resources
- University of Chicago, D'Angelo Law Library: Foreign and International Law Guide
- University of Illinois, College of Law: Sources of International and Foreign law in English
- University of Minnesota Law Library: Researching Foreign law
- Columbia Law: A Selective List of Guides to Foreign Legal Research
- And for an incredibly long list of annotated links to foreign law resources compiled by the University of Chicago library.
Sites with further suggestions for finding obscure Foreign law materials:
= Restricted resource
= Some full text
= OpenURL enabled
= Video files
= Audio files