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Foreign and Comparative Legal Research

Welcome

Approaching legal research in a jurisdiction that is new to you can be a daunting prospect. Legal systems can vary from country to country. Understanding the legal system in a country helps make locating relevant resources easier.

This guide is designed to help you approach legal research in a new jurisdiction by outlining the following:

  • how to determine a country's legal system
  • where you can access primary sources of legal material such as legislation, codes, case law, etc
  • how to locate relevant secondary sources
  • point you to resources useful for comparative research
  • other resources to assist in foreign legal research

Different Legal Systems

The types of materials produced in the law making process may vary depending on the jurisdiction you are researching. This will depend on the type of legal system in a particular jurisdiction i.e. common law, civil law, customary law, religious law, or mixed systems.

The following resources will help you determine the type of legal system in a particular jurisdiction and primary sources of law within that jurisdiction:

Foreign Law Guide


The Foreign Law Guide (UniMelb staff & students) is a database that contains information on over 170 jurisdiction and includes information such as:

  • introductory information about the legal system, legal history, legislation and judicial system
  • citations (and links where possible) to publications such as major codes, official gazettes, compilations or official codifications, session laws, court reports, etc
  • laws by subject across jurisdictions

You can either search or browse by jurisdiction or laws on a subject:

Once you have located the chapter on the jurisdiction of interest, you can navigate to summaries on the government structure and legal system, types of primary sources or laws by subject.

Juriglobe


Juriglobe is a free resource produced by the University of Ottawa that helps you determine a country's legal system classification and related information. 

It also contains general information about the different legal systems and information on demographic distribution, world Gross Domestic Product (GDP), international trade and official languages.

CIA World Factbook


The CIA World Factbook contains facts and figures on 200+ countries. It provides information on the legal system of countries, as well as the history, people, government, economy, energy, geography, communications, transportation, military and transnational issues.

It also contains a list of countries and their legal systems.

 

Accessing Primary Legal Sources

Once you have determined what the primary legal sources are for a particular jurisdiction, you must try to locate those sources. The Law Library subscribes to numerous databases that contain the primary sources for other jurisdictions. The best way to locate these databases and access the primary legal sources is through our Research Guides. The Research Guides are separated into the following sections: Australian Law, General Legal, Foreign, Global & Comparative Law, and International Law. Refer to the research guide in your jurisdiction of interest (if available).

You can also access a foreign jurisdiction's research guide via the Law Library's Research Databases - by Jurisdiction link. For many of the jurisdictions listed, there is a research guide available that contains in-depth information about legal research in that jurisdiction and relevant databases related to that jurisdiction

These guides will direct you to databases the University of Melbourne Library subscribe to, as well as any freely available websites or databases.

Foreign Law Guide


The Foreign Law Guide (UniMelb staff & students) is a database that contains information on over 170 jurisdiction and includes citations and links (where possible) to publications such as major codes, official gazettes, compilations or official codifications, session laws, and court reports. You can browse laws by country and by subject across jurisdictions. 

WorldLII 


The World Legal Information Institute's research database WorldLII contains material on a large range of jurisdictions. WorldLII is a free, independent and non-profit global legal research facility developed collaboratively by a number of Legal Information Institutes and Law Faculties around the world. AustLII is one of the collaborating parties in WorldLII. 

You can browse by country, database, or region:

Note: Be mindful that as WorldLII is a not-for-profit organisation, the datasets for each country be not be complete, comprehensive, or up to date.

Other Research Guides


While the Law Library has a number of Research Guides on various jurisdiction, there is not a guide on every jurisdiction. If the Law Library does not have a research guide on your particular jurisdiction, try the following resources:

Globalex

New York University School of Law's Globalex contains a foreign law research collection with chapters on over 150 countries. The guides are written by expert law librarians from each jurisdiction and include information about the legal system and links to free sources of law (if available).

If there are multiple revisions for a guide on a jurisdiction, be sure to click the UPDATE link next to the original guide for that jurisdiction.

Note: the hyperlink to the guide will take you to the first version published. If you see an Update next to the guide - this is the most recent version available.

Library of Congress

The United States Library of Congress Law Library has produced guides to online legal research for a variety of nations.  These highlight the primary sources for a range of jurisdictions, and where to find them online (if possible).  The Library of Congress also has Foreign Law Research Guides for a selection of countries.  

Other University Research Guides

Several other universities also produce good foreign and comparative law research guides such as Georgetown Law Library’s Foreign and Comparative Law Research Guide and Harvard Law School Library's Free Legal Research Resources on Foreign and International Law. 

Secondary Sources

When undertaking legal research, it is best to begin with secondary sources such as reference materials, books and journal articles as they will explain the legal landscape you are researching, and will often lead you to the key primary sources in your jurisdiction or topic of interest.

Reference Materials 


Reference Materials such as legal dictionaries and encyclopaedias can provide a good overview on a new topic or jurisdiction.

There are a number of reference materials available on the Law Library Research Databases - by Type page, under Reference & Encyclopaedias:

Journal Database


Journal databases that contain articles on specific jurisdictions are included in the Law Library's jurisdiction specific Research Guides. For a general list of journal databases, refer to the Research Databases - by Type Journal article section.

Below are selected databases that contain journal articles on a range of jurisdictions.

  • Hein Online (UniMelb staff & students) - contains a large number of law journals, university law reviews, Bar Association publications, yearbooks as well as historical primary sources for a range of jurisdictions including United States, United Kingdom, Canada and the European Union.
  • LegalTrac (UniMelb staff & students) - indexes over 1500 titles from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, United Kingdom and the United States. Includes law reviews, legal newspapers, Bar Association publications and international legal journal and law-related articles from over 1000 additional business and general interest titles.
  • Index to Legal Periodicals & Books (UniMelb staff & students) - indexes over 1000 legal journals, law reviews, yearbooks, institutes, statutes, Bar Association publications, university publications and government publications. It provides international coverage including periodicals from the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand.
  • Index to Foreign Legal Periodicals (UniMelb staff & students) - a multilingual index to over 400 legal journals worldwide.

Books


When starting your research, a textbook in the area of law is very useful. Use the library catalogue to locate books (and eBooks).

Bonus+ and Inter-Library Loans

If you are after a book which the University of Melbourne does not hold, or if there is a book  in the collection that is already on loan, or missing, you can request a copy through the Bonus+ system. Bonus+ is a resource sharing co-operative between a number of Australian and New Zealand university libraries. Staff and students of member libraries have access to over 3.7 million titles.

Alternatively, if there is a journal article or book you have found in your research that the library does not have access to, you can place an Inter-Library Loan request (available to UniMelb Postgraduate students and staff).

Comparative Legal Research

Comparative law is a legal research method that compares the similarities and differences of the domestic laws of one country with another country. Comparative law tends to be subject focused - comparing the laws on a particular topic in at least two jurisdiction.

There are a number of comparative law research guides on the Law Library Research Guides page with links to key resources in that subject. There are guides on subjects such as:

Reference and Encyclopaedias


Legal encyclopaedias provide succinct summaries on legal topics. Each topic is written by an expert and regularly reviewed so the information is relevant and accurate to current law. They are arranged by subject and include legislation and case law authorities in support of the statements. 

The Library subscribes to a number of reference & encyclopaedic materials useful for comparative legal research:

  • Max Planck Encyclopedia of Comparative Constitutional Law - contains analytical coverage of constitutional law topics in a comparative context, arranged alphabetically by topic. The encyclopedia articles provide analysis of key cases that have contributed to or advanced constitutional law concepts on a global scale, and key instruments in constitutional law history such as the Magna Carta, the Charter of Medina, and the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam. 
  • Kluwer Law Online - Online access to the following titles in the International Encyclopaedia of Laws on Kluwer Law Online: Constitutional Law, Energy Law, Environmental Law, Intergovernmental Organisations Law, Labour Law.
  • Oxford Reference - Oxford Reference provides quality, up-to-date reference content on a range of subject areas such as law. It contains reference materials such as dictionaries, encyclopedias, guide books, and includes reference material such as the Oxford Companion to the High Court of Australia.

Foreign Law Guide


The Foreign Law Guide allows you to browse or search by subject area. It includes the central primary sources, particularly legislation, in that area of law. A list of secondary sources on the subject may also be included for some jurisdictions.

You can navigate by Subject:

Once you have selected a subject area, select your country of interest. The country page will include the primary law in the area, and secondary sources for selected subjects/jurisdictions.

 

Multinational Sources Compared


Multinational Sources Compared is a Hein Online database that identifies key secondary sources that compare laws in multiple jurisdictions on a particular subject. Browse by Subject to navigate to the topic of interest.

Use the Find It @ UniMelb link to see if we have the secondary source in the library. Each entry also highlights which jurisdictions are focused on in the secondary source.

Translations of Foreign Laws

If you need to translate foreign legal information:

  • Indicate who was responsible for the translation (translator, scholar, etc)
  • Use online translator services to get a sense of the meaning of information
  • Find a biā€lingual dictionary in the library catalogue

There are selected websites that produce translations of laws for a particular subject area (see below). New York University's Globalex Foreign Law Guides may also include information for obtaining translations of particular jurisdictions' laws.

WIPO Lex


WIPO Lex contains national laws and treaties on intellectual property from selected countries which are WIPO, WTO or UN members. it is a good source for selected civil codes in the vernacular and in translation.

NATLEX


NATLEX is the International Labour Organization's legal database containing legislation on national labour, social security and related human rights from over 190 countries. The legislation has been translated into English, Spanish and French.

International Law Journals


Selected international law journals may include commentary or translations of changes to laws or important judicial updates on a range of jurisdictions.

Online Translations


To get a sense of the meaning of the information to be translated, you can use free tools such as Google Translate and BING Translator to quickly translate documents. Please note: using online translating tools are not official translations and official or authorised translations should always be used where available in preference of documents translated using Google Translate or BING Translator.

Major Foreign Legal Databases

Below is a list of databases containing foreign primary and secondary sources:

  • Lexis Advance (UniMelb staff & students) - primarily an Australian legal research platform, Lexis Advance Pacific also contains primary and secondary material on the United Kingdom, Singapore, Canada, New Zealand, India and Malaysia.
  • Lexis Advance US Research (UniMelb staff & students) - this database has a US focus, but does include cases and secondary material from Australia, Canada, United Kingdom, the United Nations and other international organisations.
  • Westlaw China (UniMelb staff & students) - a legal research tool specialising in Chinese laws. Content is in Mandarin and English.
  • Westlaw (UniMelb staff & students) - contains an extensive collection of US state and federal materials and international content from Canada, Hong Kong, Korea, United Kingdom, European Union and selected content on jurisdictions such as France, Germany, Mexico, Netherlands, South Africa and more.
  • Westlaw Next Canada (UniMelb staff & students) - contains a large collection of Canadian primary and secondary sources. Westlaw Next Canada also has a good international focus in the journal collection.
  • Westlaw UK (UniMelb staff & students) - primarily focused on the United Kingdom jurisdictions, Westlaw UK also contains journal articles concerning the European Union, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and more.

For further legal research databases, please refer to the Research Databases - Alphabetically on the Law Library website.

Getting the Deal Through

Getting The Deal Through Online (UniMelb staff & students) provides concise explanations of the most important legal and regulatory matters that arise in business deals and disputes worldwide. These international guides cover law and regulations in 46 practice areas and more than 150 jurisdictions. Material can be searched, or browsed by title, jurisdiction or practice area.

Private International Law

  • Hague Conference on Private International Law - a global inter-governmental organisation that develops and services multilateral legal instruments, which respond to global needs.
  • UNIDROIT (The International Institute for the Unification of Private Law) - an independent intergovernmental organisation which studies needs and methods for modernising, harmonising and co-ordinating private law between states and jurisdictions.
  • UNILEX - a case law database for cases concerning the UNIDROIT Principles of International Commercial Contracts and the UN Convention on Contracts for the International Sale of Goods (CISG).
  • UNICITRAL (United Nations Commission on International Trade Law) - develops framwork to further prgoress the harmonisation and modernisation of law in international trade. Includes commission documents, working group documetns, resolutions and related materials.

Contact Us

If you need assistance finding and using any of the books, journal articles, databases and resources in this guide, please contact a law librarian.  You can use the 'Ask a Librarian' chat service for quick questions, or for more in-depth enquiries, please email: law-library@unimelb.edu.au