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Introduction to Legal Research

This guide is an introduction to legal research at the University of Melbourne. This guide is intended for law students in the JD, MLM , Breadth programs who are new to legal research. Students in other disciplines who may need to conduct legal research

Introduction to International Law Research 

After this module, you should be able to:

  • Understand where to start when researching international law
  • Locate research guides for public international law
  • Identify reference materials available from the Law Library for public international law
  • Find treaties through various sources 
  • Locate international court/tribunal decisions through various sources
  • Understand where to find United Nations documents and where to find more help
  • Identify how to research customary law and general principles of law
  • Know where to find the rules for citing international materials in the Australian Guide to Legal Citation

What is Public International Law?

Public International Law is a legal system that deals with the relationship among nation states and intergovernmental organisations, such as the United Nations and European Union. It is also known as the "law of nations" or simply international law and should not be confused with private international law, foreign law, and comparative law. ‚Äč 

Sources of Public International Law 

There is no central international body that creates public international law. Research in this field requires the use of a wide variety of sources.

The Charter of the United Nations is the establishing document for the International Court of Justice (ICJ) as the principal judicial organ of the UN.  Article 38(1) of the Statute of the International Court of Justice lists the sources that the ICJ uses to resolve disputes as follows:

Main Sources

  • Treaties (International Conventions)
  • International Custom – as evidence of a general practice accepted as law
  • General Principles of Law – as recognized by civilized nations

Subsidiary Sources

  • Judicial Decisions (Case Law)
  • Academic Writings (Teachings of highly qualified publicists)

Public International Law Research Guide

Public International Law Research Guides 

Research guides can provide a good starting point for providing an introductory overview of public international law research.  The University of Melbourne Law Library’s research guide for Public International Law provides an introduction to undertaking public international law research.