Foreign Law: Subject Law Collections on the Web
by Charlotte Bynum
Formerly of the Cornell Law Library, Charlotte Bynum is a reference librarian focusing on foreign and international law at the Tulane Law Library. She is also an active member of the Foreign, Comparative and International Law Special Interest Section of the American Association of Law Libraries. Charlotte has a J.D. from Tulane Law School, and a Masters in Library and Information Science from the University of Michigan.
I hope this article will serve as a brief introduction to selected subject collections of national or domestic laws which are available on the web. Of course, the content of the web varies second by second, currency is not assured, and the source of the site must be scrutinized for its legitimacy. Despite these many caveats, however, I often find online sources useful, at least until a more authoritative official version can be acquired.
Published February 2005
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- Constitutions/Constitutional Law
- Public Administration and Finance
- Libraries and Archives
- Labor Laws
- Maritime/Coastal/Space Laws
- Investment, Privatization, Banking, Insolvency and Securitization Laws
- Volunteer and Non-Profit Laws
- Competition and Consumer Laws
- Criminal Laws
- Intellectual Property Laws
- Mining and Energy Laws
International Constitutional Law
The first constitutional law site I would recommend is the ICL (for "International Constitutional Law") site, now hosted at the Institut für öffentliches Recht at the University of Bern. It provides English translations of around 90 constitutions, with a helpful constitutional background outline for many others. There is also a useful article on comparative constitutional law by Dr. Axel Tschentscher.
Francophone Constitutional Law
Constitutional law in the Francophone countries is well served by the website hosted by ACCPUF, the Association of Constitutional Courts Sharing Usage of the French Language. They cover the constitutional law of over 40 states. Exclusively in French, the site features news, constitutions, legislation, court decisions, and articles on the constitutional systems of the various countries. Access is by keyword searching, subject searching, or by country.
The Venice Commission
The Venice Commission of the Council of Europe has a valuable database called CODICES, which is available in both French and English, and features court decisions and laws on judicial administration, as well as constitutions. Its print counterpart is the Bulletin of Constitutional Case-Law, and it is also available for purchase on CD.
Institute of Global Law
The University College London-based Institute of Global Law has English translations of legal materials within the realm of constitutional, administrative and tort law, including decisions from French, German, Austrian, and (soon) Italian courts.
Legislation Online, a service of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), Legislation Online contains the full-text laws from OSCE countries on human rights, NGOs, elections, citizenship, minority rights, terrorism, gender, the right to a fair trial, the judiciary, law enforcement, prisons, the death penalty, and trafficking in persons. Several of these issues are often addressed at the constitutional level.
Legisnet is a French-language site which has a valuable collection of past and present constitutions of the Maghreb (Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia). The constitutions may also be searched as a global database. The Marianne database on this site also provides searching and browsing capabilities for all the French constitutions (and two drafts) since 1789.
Other Constitutional Resources
Other collections of constitutions are found on the websites of the Constitution Society, the Constitution Finder at the University of Richmond, and the Georgetown Political Database of the Americas constitutions collection. The UNPAN site, discussed below, also has a number of constitutions which are discussed in its "legislation" section.
Public Administration and Finance
In order to facilitate improved government administration and to address governance issues more generally, the OECD and the European Union jointly created the Sigma Programme. The program has an extensive collection of European civil service laws in English, specifically for Albania, Bosnia and Herzgovina, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Romania, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia. Also included on this site are national public procurement laws in English, specifically for Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, the Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia, Hungary, Kosovo, Latvia, Lithuania, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia and Turkey. The OECD still hosts selected European Civil Service laws on its site, specifically those of Albania, Bulgaria, Estonia, France, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Poland and Spain.
Laws of Supreme Audit Institutions
Hosted on the site of the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, the International Organization of Supreme Audit Institutions (SAIs) has compiled the mandates and statutes of its member SAIs.
The United Nations Online Network in Public Administration and Finance has an impressive collection of laws relevant to governance and finance. Choose the region, and then select the country.
Libraries and Archives
UNESCO has collections of laws regarding both Archives and Libraries.
NATLEX, an International Labour Organization database, is a treasure trove of not just labor laws, but also a larger range of subjects. Penal codes, free trade zone legislation, and economic and social policy legislation, for example, may be included. Some of the entries give only the citation (or identifying information), while others are provided in full-text, in English, French or Spanish. The ILO's MarLex site includes legislation on seafarers, maritime safety, and some maritime codes and shipping laws.
The Office of Legal Affairs of the Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea within the United Nations Secretariat has collected national legislation regarding delimitation of maritime boundaries, in the English language. For the legislation of a particular country, choose States by Region, and then the country. The ILO MarLex site, mentioned in the section above, also has some maritime legislation.
Coastal and Ocean Laws
The Integrated Coastal Management site, a joint undertaking of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, UNESCO, the National Ocean Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Center for the Study of Marine Policy of the University of Delaware, the World Bank, and the UNEP Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Environment, has a collection of national laws, either in the original language or in English translation.
The UN's Office for Outer Space Affairs has selected examples of laws governing space from Australia, Portugal, Canada, Chile, France, Germany, Japan, Norway, Russian Federation, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Ukraine, United Kingdom, and the United States of America. The laws are either in the original language(s) or English, and may be in .html or .pdf. The logo for the file helpfully includes the first letter for the name of the language employed in English, e.g., E for English, F for French, S for Spanish, etc.
Investment, Privatization, Banking, Insolvency and Securitization Laws
Privatization and Investment Laws
Privatization Link, from the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency of the World Bank Group, offers a large collection of privatization laws. Choose Topic, then Privatization Laws. Next, the particular country can be chosen.
Asian Investment Laws
Investment laws in English for Japan, Myanmar and Vietnam were collected by Professor Kzauo Iwaski on his website, which was last updated April 2000.
Arab Industrial Investment Laws
The Arab Industrial Development and Mining Organization has posted investment laws, which are primarily in Arabic, with only a few in English or French.
Global Banking Law Database
The Global Banking Law Database is an ever-growing collection of banking laws from the World Bank Group and the International Monetary Fund, compiled to assist in drafting banking reform legislation. Laws not originally written in English are given in an unofficial English translation, in both MS Word and PDF formats. There are plans to provide additional languages in the future. Laws are presented by jurisdiction, keyword, and topics (as derived from the Basel 25 Core Principles for Effective Banking Supervision).
The NYU Center for the Study of Central Banks site is a joint venture of the Leonard N. Stern School of Business and the NYU School of Law, and has a collection of banking legislation which seems to span up until the early 1990s. Choose Searchable central banking and banking documents for a list by country.
The Global Insolvency Law Database from the World Bank collects insolvency information for 10 countries, with varying degrees of completion (Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Israel, Japan, Romania, South Africa, Thailand, United States and United Kingdom). Not all have legislation online yet; it is still under construction.
InsolvencyAsia, a website maintained by the Hong Kong firm of Ferrier Hodgson, has the insolvency laws of several Asian countries--Hong Kong, India, Indonesia and Korea.
Vinod Kothari's securitization website has an extensive collection of securitization laws, either in the original language or in English translation.
Volunteer and Non-Profit Laws
In commemoration of the 1991 Year of the Volunteer, World Volunteer Web mounted a collection of volunteer and non-profit legislation on its website. To look for a particular country's legislation, choose National Profiles, and then go down to Documents. For the complete collection (interspersed with other documents), choose Policy, then National Policy and Legislation. Documents are in English, French, Spanish or Arabic.
Another good place to look is the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law. In its County Laws and Reports section, non-profit laws are listed and hyperlinked, if available online. Others may be requested for the cost of shipping and handling.
Competition and Consumer Laws
The OAS Trade Unit's Foreign Information System (SICE) has a collection of national competition laws of countries of the Western Hemisphere. Legislation is usually in the original language, with a few English translations.
Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation's (or APEC's) Competition Policy and Law Database includes full-text national legislation from the Asia-Pacific and Mexico, China, and the United States. The laws are in English translation.
The International Bar Association site provides competition laws, in the original language, while the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, or UNCTAD, has competition laws in English translation for 12 countries, with links to competition authorities providing other laws.
The consumer protection laws of 21 countries in the Asia-Pacific region are available on the Consumers International Asia Pacific Office site.
Criminal and Criminal Procedure Codes
The University of Buffalo Criminal Law Center has a number of Criminal and Criminal Procedure Codes on its website, including those of France, Chile, Brazil, Germany and many others.
The Center for Judicial Studies of the Americas has a Spanish-language website with the penal and criminal procedure codes for Latin and South American countries, as well as their constitutions and Inter-American human rights treaties. Choose virtual library in both the English and Spanish interfaces, because only the English-language legislation is accessible through the English interface; the same is true for the Spanish interface, which only leads to legislation in Spanish.
The International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism, based in Israel, currently has online U.S., U.K., Indian and Israeli anti-terrorism legislation.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has an online Legal Library with a collection of drug legislation in English covering over 150 countries.
The European Legal Database on Drugs has an extensive collection of European legislation, which is sometimes translated into English.
The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has an Anti-Corruption Ring Online (AnCorR) site which includes a law library, with references to a number of national anti-corruption laws, and the full-text (some with English translation) of laws, including those of Nigeria, Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica and Ecuador.
Respondanet has anti-corruption legislation, in Spanish, for Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, Peru, the U.S. and Venezuela.
The International Money Laundering Information Network (IMOLIN) is a network of several contributing organizations, including the United Nations, the Commonwealth Secretariat, Interpol, OAS-CICAD, the Financial Action Task Force, the Asia/Pacific Group on Money Laundering, the World Customs Organization and the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force.
The Organization of American States collection of Materials on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters and Extradition has listings for each country, with varying degrees of information provided. Some countries have the penal codes, criminal procedure codes, drug and extradition laws, usually in the original language. The interface only is in French, English, Spanish or Portuguese.
NoBribes.Org, the Anti-Corruption Gateway for Europe and Eurasia, was a good source for national anti-corruption laws, but many of the links are now outdated.
Transparency International's CORIS database has legislation for some countries, with links to the TI chapter of others.
Intellectual Property Laws
Although there are many IP sites on the web, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) has the most extensive collection of intellectual property laws in its CLEA database. The laws are available in French, English and Spanish.
Mining and Energy Laws
The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific hosts a Compendium of Energy Conservation Legislation, which encompasses several countries of the region - Australia, Japan, China, Korea, Thailand, and Uzbekistan - as well as the Russian Federation and United States. All of the laws are in English. The compendium was compiled in 1997, with contact information given for the appropriate government ministry to check for later legislation.