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UPDATE: Foreign Law: Subject Law Collections on the Web

by Charlotte Bynum


Formerly of the Cornell Law Library, Charlotte Bynum is an assistant director and 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 December 2007
See the Archive Version!





Constitutions/Constitutional Law


Although it hasn't been updated in a couple of years, the ICL  (for "International Constitutional Law") site hosted at the Institut für öffentliches Recht at the University of Bern is still worthy of mention.  It provides the texts of around 90 constitutions in English.  Helpful constitutional background outlines for about 40 other countries are also provided, in addition to a useful article on comparative constitutional law by Dr. Axel Tschentscher.


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. The organization covers 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.    Simply choose court for the particular country of interest.


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 or extracts from them.  Its print counterpart is the Bulletin of Constitutional Case-Law, and it is also available for purchase on CD.


The University of Texas's Institute for Transnational Law now hosts a collection of Foreign Law Translations previously mounted at University College London's website. The collection has English translations of legal materials within the realms of constitutional, administrative and tort law, including decisions from French, German, Austrian, and Israeli courts.


Legislationline, a service of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE),   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.  A number of constitutions are available on the site, several of which are in English translation. The site's interface is in English and Russian, with the documents available in all OSCE languages.


Perhaps the most up to date resource presently is the University of Richmond's Constitution Finder, which is coordinated by Prof.  John Paul Jones.  Most are links to other websites, but some documents are mounted on the site in .pdf format. European constitutions are collected at the   European Constitutional Law Network's website. The Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL) website has collected links for the constitutions of about 25 Asian countries, and the Centre for Human Rights  at the University of Pretoria has links to  more than 50 African Constitutions.


The Georgetown Political Database of the Americas has compiled constitutions in the vernacular.    Other nonregional collections include Richard Kimber's Political Resources on the Net and one from the Institute for European Constitutional Law at the University of Trier.


The UNPAN site, discussed ­below, also has a number of constitutions which are contained in its Legislation section. 


Criminal Laws


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.  Derecho Penal, Códigos Jurídicos del Mundo, and Legislationline.org are also good sources of penal codes.


The Center for Judicial Studies of the Americas has a Spanish-language website with criminal laws for the countries of North, Central and South America, as well as their constitutions and Inter-American human rights treaties.  Choose Biblioteca and then Legislacion.


The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction's European Legal Database  on Drugs has an extensive collection of national drug  legislation for the EU member states and Norway.  Although the collection is primarily in the original language, there are occasionally English translations. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has an online Legal Library with a collection of drug legislation covering 180 countries in Spanish, English or French, the working languages of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs.


Respondanet has anti-corruption legislation in Spanish, for Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, Peru, the U.S. and Venezuela.  The Southern African Information Portal on Corruption's database is a good source for anti-corruption laws from countries of that region. Choose a particular country or Corruption Legislation as keywords  from the drop-down menu.


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.  Although its anti-money laundering legislation database is restricted by login to public officials, the legislation is still accessible though browsing by country or region.


The Council of Europe has mounted laws of almost 30 European countries concerning  Money Laundering, most of which are in English.  The Asia-Pacific Group on Money-Laundering has national legislation for several countries in that region. 


The Organization of American States's 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. The OECD website also has a collection of extradition laws which implement its anti-bribery convention.


The Anti-Corruption Gateway for Europe and Eurasia has compiled the national legislation of several Southeastern European countries on money-laundering and asset forfeiture. Additional legislation is accessible by selecting a particular country under Country Information.


Prevent Genocide International's website provides excerpts of national legislation on genocide.


Public Administration and Finance


The World Bank has an extensive collection of budget, fiscal responsibility laws, and other public finance related acts.  Respondanet hosts the public finance laws of Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, El Salvador and Venezuela in Spanish, and those of Brazil and Bolivia in English.


In order to facilitate improved government administration and to address governance issues more generally, the OECD and the European Union jointly created the Sigma [Support for Improvement in Government and Management] Programme. The site includes national public procurement laws in English, specifically for Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, the Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia, Hungary, Kosovo, Latvia, Lithuania, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia and Turkey. There is also a substantial collection of European civil service laws in English.


The United Nations Online Network in Public Administration and Finance (UNPAN) has an impressive collection of laws relevant to governance and finance.  Choose Information by Region under Virtual Library, and then select the country.  The civil service laws of quite a few countries are found here.


The International Labour Organization's NATLEX database, discussed below, has a subject classification for civil service laws.  Within Specific Categories of Workers, it is Public and Civil Servants.


Non-Profit Laws


The best place to look for non-profit laws is the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law, which seeks to encourage the development of civil society and its participation in public decisions.  Registration is mandatory but free for its online library, which contains documentation for more than 140 countries.  The database is searchable and browsable by country or language. Many of the countries have a much broader range of subject matter, including commercial and civil codes, tax law, company law, constitutions, and administrative laws. All of the documents are in .pdf format.


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.


Competition and Consumer Laws


The World Bank Competition Law Database has collected the competition laws of Albania, Algeria, Argentina, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Australia, Belarus, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Cameroon, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cote D'Ivoire, Egypt, Ethiopia, Fiji, Honduras, Israel, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Laos, Malawi Mauritius, Mongolia, Namibia, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Poland, Republic of Korea, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Singapore, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Tanzania, Thailand, Tunisia, Uruguay, Venezuela, Vietnam,  Zambia and Zimbabwe.


The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) handbook on competition legislation  includes the full-text of the competition laws of Serbia, South Africa and Montenegro, while its collection of national competition legislation has those from Bulgaria, Chile, Indonesia, Israel, Kenya, Lithuania, Malawi, Mexico, New Zealand, Thailand, Turkey,   Ukraine, Zambia,  and Zimbabwe.


SICE, the Organization of American State's Foreign Trade Information System, 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.


The International Bar Association site provides competition laws from around the world, usually  in the original language, and  the  Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (or APEC) Competition Policy and Law Database includes full-text national legislation from Australia, Chile, China, Chinese Taipei (Republic of China), Japan, Korea, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Russia, Thailand,  and  Mexico  and the United States.  The laws are in English translation, with the exception of that of Peru.


The EC Consumer Law Compendium is an excellent source for European national consumer legislation, sometimes also available in translation.  While  it provides discussions of the consumer law of 21 states within the region, Consumers International's Asia Pacific Office website maintains the full-text legislation  [link to legislation] for Australia, Cambodia, China, its Special Administrative Regions of Hong Kong and Macao, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Mongolia, Nepal, New Zealand, Pakistan, the Philippines, South Korea, Sri Lanka and Thailand.


Refugee/Asylum Law


The International Organization for Migration's International Migration Law Database and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR) Refworld Database are both treasure troves of national laws among many other resources for this area. Although there are several means of access, probably the easiest way in Refworld to locate legislation is by choice of country. Although previously the Refworld database online did not contain all the contents of the subscription database, now all the documents are available in full.  There are over 3000 documents consisting of national legislation alone. The International Migration Law Database allows searching by title, language, country, and categories, such as assimilation, asylum, border management, deportation, detention, exportation, expulsion, internally displaced persons, migrant workers, refugees and statelessness.


Libraries and Archives


Although several of the links are no longer operational, UNESCO's collections of laws regarding both Libraries (including legal deposit acts) and Archives may be useful. The Parallel History Project on Cooperative Security (PHP) has a good collection of archival and freedom of information laws of Europe and North America.


Labor Laws


NATLEX, an International Labour Organization database, is an extremely valuable source 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. 


Maritime/Coastal/Space Laws


The UN's Office of Legal Affairs's 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 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, Belize, China, Denmark, France, Italy, Korea, Portugal,  Spain,  Sweden,  and the United States of America.  The laws are either in the original language(s) or English, and may be in .html or .pdf. 


Insolvency Laws


The InterNet Bankruptcy Library has the bankruptcy or insolvency laws of a number of Asia-Pacific and European countries, together with those of Canada and Argentina. The World Bank's Global Insolvency Law Database, a previously valuable database, is now in transition, and the laws for almost none of the countries have been remounted there yet.


Election Laws


The Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL) provides the election laws of about 14 Asian countries on its site. Georgetown's Center for Latin American Studies of the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service provides numerous election laws in its Political Database of the Americas. The Project on Political Transformation and the Electoral Process in Post-Communist Europe of the Department of Government at the University of Essex has collected numerous elections laws of formerly Communist European countries. The project ended in 2002.


The International Foundation for Election Systems (IFEX) published in 2003 an Arab Election Law Compendium which is online in .pdf format.  It contains legislative texts in French or English of Algeria, Djibouri, Egypt, Lebanon, Maritania, Morocco, Palestine, Sudan, Tunisia and Yemen.  Another IFES Arab Law Compendium covers the laws of those countries and Jordan.  Much of the legislation is in Arabic, although some have English or French translations.