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International Environmental Law Research: Foreign Law

Foreign Legal System

Before you begin researching the law of a foreign jurisdiction, take a few minutes to familiarize yourself with its legal system. Developing a basic understanding of a jurisdiction's legal system will help you to determine what are the primary sources sources of law and what types of legal materials you can reasonably expect to find.

For a brief overview of a foreign jurisdiction's legal system, consult one or more of the following online resources:

Foreign Constitutions

For most foreign jurisdictions, constitutional texts are relatively easy to locate and are often available in English translation.  Listed below are the best electronic resources and print resources for researching current and/or historical constitutions from jurisdictions around the world. 

It's also worth noting that some foreign jurisdictions amend their constitutions much more frequently than the United States does.


Foreign Legislation & Regulations

In almost all jurisdictions outside the U.S., newly enacted legislation and newly promulgated regulations are published chronologically in an official gazette.  Many gazettes also publish amendments made to existing statutes and regulations.  In some jurisdictions, commercial publishers produce unofficial compilations of statutes and regulations currently in force. 

The Library of Congress maintains the most extensive collection of official gazettes in North America.  Use the Library of Congress Guide to Law Online: Nations of the World. Begin by selecting the desired jurisdiction.  After the page refreshes, use the table of contents on the left to navigate.  If the official gazette is available online, you should find a link to the electronic version on the Legislation page.  Visit the Legal Guides page for information about the Law Library's print holdings of the official gazette.

The availability of English translations varies widely, depending on the subject matter of the law and, to a lesser extent, the size of the jurisdiction. Automated machine translation tools, such as Google Translate, are steadily improving.  Nevertheless, legal researchers should exercise caution when using them, as they may fail to recognize specialized jargon or overlook critical nuances in meaning.

Foreign Case Law

When researching foreign case law, the first step is to identify the type of legal system in place in the jurisdiction that interests you.  Knowing the type of legal system will enable you to assess the likelihood of finding relevant case law and help you to determine where to look for it.  If you don't know, or aren't sure, what kind of legal system is in place, consult the Foreign Legal System above or JuriGlobe World Legal Systems.

To retrieve a case by citation or by party name, start with an online case law database.  For links to relevant case law databases, visit Georgetown University's  Multi-Jurisdictional Resources page and the Case Law by Jurisdiction page of their Foreign and Comparative Law Research Guide

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