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United Kingdom Legal Research: Treaties

This guide will help with your United Kingdom Legal Research.

Citing Treaty Series - AGLC3 Style

If a treaty is included in a treaty series, the treaty series should be cited rather than eg: the UN document number. Treaties are often included in several treaty series. According to Chapter 7.4 (pp 125-127) of the Australian Guide to Legal Citation, treaties should be cited in the following preferential order:

  1. United Nations Treaty Series (UNTS) 1946+ (See the UNTS information in the box to the left for information on how to find and cite your treaty in the UNTS.)
  2. An official treaty series of a state party. For the UK, this is the United Kingdom Treaty Series (UKTS).
  3. International Legal Materials (ILM) (University of Melb staff & students only). This series is on HEIN Online (vol 1, 1962+) in the Law Journal Library collection and in JSTOR (vol 1, 1962+) . This is not a treaty series - but it includes treaty texts and useful introductory information about the treaties, and it is an accepted method of citation.   Note that JSTOR's holdings are more up to date than HEIN.
  4. If the treaty is not included in any of the above, use the official document number (such as a UN document number) to identify it, using the accepted style as described in Chapter 8 of ACLC3.

Finding UK treaties

The United Kingdom Treaty Series (UKTS) is the UK's official treaty series.

Treaties that have been signed but not yet ratified or acceded to must be laid before both Houses of Parliament as Command Papers, which are published in one of three Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) series:

  • Country Series – bilateral treaties. Available:
  • Miscellaneous Series – multilateral treaties, where the UK is a signatory. Available:
  • European Union Series – treaties between EU member states or between member states and non-member states or group of states. Available:

‚ÄčOnce a treaty has entered into force for the UK it is published as a Command paper in the UK Treaty Series. Available:

The UK Treaties Online search engine can be used to search all the above series. UK Treaties Online contains the full texts of Command Papers published in the UK Treaty Series from 1892 to current. Full text is only available for UKTS. Records for the other series are available, but not full text.  

For detailed information about the treaty making process and finding the texts of UK treaties, see the FCO's UK Treaties Guidance page.

 

United Nations Treaty Series

The United Nations Treaty Series Online contains most multilateral and all bilateral treaties in force entered into by the UK since 1949. To find all UK treaties registered with the UN:

  • select Participant from the top menu.
  • select United Kingdom and (optionally) other countries from the dropdown menu.
  • click the 'Match all of these participants' radio button.
  • Click 'Search'.

For citation purposes, you need to find the UNTS citation (see the box on the left of this page).

  • Click on the 'See Details' link for the specific treaty / agreement.
  • Scroll to 'Volume in PDF' and click on the link.
  • Find your treaty in the volume.
  • You will now have all the details you need to cite to the UNTS eg:
    • Agreement establishing the Asian Coconut Community, opened for signature 12 December 1968 684 UNTS 164 (entered into force 30 July 1969)

International Law and UK Domestic Law

The UK follows a dualist approach with respect to the domestic effect of international treaties. This is similar in approach to other Commonwealth countries such as Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The dualist system means that in order for the treaty obligations to be given the force of law domestically, the UK cannot simply become a party to the treaty - the treaty must be incorporated into domestic legislation (Maclaine Watson & Co Ltd v Department of Trade and Trade and Industry [1990] 2 AC 418, 474-5). An example of incorporation of a human rights treaty into UK domestic legislation is the Human Rights Act 1998 c. 42, which gives legal effect in the UK to many fundamental rights and freedoms contained in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). 

When the UK is a party to a treaty but  has not implemented this domestically by statute, there is a 'prima facie presumption that Parliament does not intend to act in breach of international law', so in cases of ambiguity, the treaty obligations are presumed to prevail (Salomon v Commissioners of Customs and Excise [1967] 2 QB 116, 143-4 (Diplock LJ)). See also Eirik Bjorge, 'Can Unincorporated Treaty Obligations Be Part of English Law?' (April 19 2017) University of Oslo Faculty of Law Research Paper No. 2017-18 (open access).

See also the UK chapters in the following books: