A Brief Guide to Select Databases for Spanish-Speaking Jurisdictions

By Dennis Kim-Prieto

Update by Gloria Orrego Hoyos

Gloria Orrego Hoyos is currently working at the Secretariat Training and Jurisprudence of the Public Defender’s Office in Argentina and as Professor of Law and Legal Research (since 2008) at the Universidad de San Andrés in Buenos Aires . Additionally, she serves as a consultant for the Observatorio de Sentencias Judiciales (Judicial Judgments Observatory) at ELA – Equipo Latinoamericano de Justicia y Género , an independent non-profit organization which analyzes, through the compilation of the rulings of the higher courts in seven countries (Argentina, Chile, Peru, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and México), the local judiciaries’ level of compliance with rights recognized in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), and to spread best practices in the defense and recognition of women’s rights.

Gloria Orrego Hoyos is a native of Colombia, where she obtained her law degree from the Pontificia Universidad Javeriana College of Law in Bogotá, Colombia, and is now living and working in Argentina where she obtained a Master in Constitutional Law and Human Rights from the Universidad de Palermo in Buenos Aires . She also has a librarianship degree from the Universidad de Ciencias Empresariales y Sociales in Buenos Aires.

Dennis Kim-Prieto is a reference librarian at the Rutgers School of Law in Newark, NJ.  He obtained his J.D. from the University of Iowa (2001), and his M.S. in Library and Information Science from the University of Illinois (2005). He would like to acknowledge Vicenç Feliu, of the Louisiana State University Law Library, for sharing invaluable insight into Argentine jurisprudence.

Published July 2015
See the Archive Version

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Threshold Considerations on Evaluation of FCIL Databases and Online Sources

2.1. Content-related Threshold Issues

2.2. Evaluation-related Threshold Issues

3. Commercial Databases for Spanish-Language Jurisdictions

3.1. LexisNexis

3.2. vLex

3.3. Westlaw

3.4. Foreign Law Guide

4. Non-Commercial Databases and Online Information Sources for Spanish-Language Jurisdictions

4.1. GLIN

4.2. Latin Laws

4.3. LII’s Proyecto de Base de Datos en Español

4.4. Página Jurídica

5. Official Access for Spanish-Latin American Law and Jurisprudence

5.1. Argentina

5.2. Bolivia

5.3. Chile

5.4. Colombia

5.5. Costa Rica

5.6. Cuba

5.7. Dominican Republic

5.8. Ecuador

5.9. El Salvador

5.10. Guatemala

5.11. Honduras

5.12. Mexico

5.13. Nicaragua

5.14. Panama

5.15. Paraguay

5.16. Peru

5.17. Uruguay

5.18. Venezuela

6. Conclusion

1.      Introduction

In the opening years of the 21 st century, Computer-Assisted Legal Research (CALR) and the nearly universal access to data fostered by the World Wide Web (WWW) have synergistically melded to yield a metaphorical explosion of access to legal material on a global level, as demonstrated by resources such as GlobaLex, LLRX, and a number of commercial databases.  This guide seeks to highlight a small sample of the more useful commercial and open-access databases, and I have selected databases which provide (or, in my estimation, should provide) access to primary and secondary legal material important to Spanish-speaking jurisdictions.

Despite the recent access to information that the WWW has allowed, my focus on Spanish-speaking jurisdictions is motivated by the fact that dissemination of legal publications in Latin America has experienced little fundamental change since Fernando Figueredo characterized these systems as “chaotic” over 35 years ago. [1]   While this is partially attributable to the political changes in the region noted above, there are many structural issues which exacerbate this chaos.  Figueredo aptly noted that in the field of legal publishing, “Latin American countries, with very few exceptions, almost completely lack any organized system of indexing.” [2]   Rightly or wrongly, as internet search engines subsume the role of traditional indexes, the WWW has become a default (and rather faulty) de facto index to serve this lack.  This reliance upon technology to serve functions traditionally performed by professionals has not simply affected librarians or indexers; as the PDF format comes to “stand in” for an informal mark of authenticity, some of the databases described below have provided documents that, by virtue of their mode of presentation or publication, usurp a role that had been traditionally performed by notaries or notarios.

It is the nature of web-based legal research to be somewhat recursive, in that researchers often find multiple entry points for their queries, and these entry points often refer to each other as well.  This brief article aspires to present evaluations that guide the time-pressed researcher, so that she may focus upon those sources that provide access to materials of the greatest value, and avoid sources of lesser value.  It is my hope that the novice librarian working in Foreign, Comparative, and International Legal Research (FCIL Research) will gather some critical entry points into accessing and evaluating some of the major databases providing access to Spanish-language legal materials from this article.  While space has prevented a thorough analysis of each and every online source, the databases analyzed below are educational examples; some by virtue of their accomplishments, and some by virtue of what they lack.

2.      Threshold Considerations on Evaluation of FCIL Databases and Online Sources

2.1.    Content-related Threshold Issues

At a minimum, the FCIL librarian must be comfortable with the official or the business language(s) of the jurisdiction in question.  FCIL librarians should have some understanding of the legal tradition of their target jurisdiction as well, but this understanding can flow, albeit with research, from the work the librarian does in the target language.  On the other hand, the FCIL librarian who lacks access to the target language will have a more difficult task than one who lacks an understanding of the target legal tradition.  In other words, access to the legal tradition and access to the target language are both critical skills, but language access for the FCIL librarian is more critical, with respect to achieving successful research outcomes.

FCIL librarians who are not comfortable with written Spanish and who are researching legal materials in Spanish-speaking jurisdictions will encounter many difficulties. Others have written, and quite persuasively, about the critical role that legal translators play in supporting a transnational network of legal practice. [3]   As very few of the documents available from the databases analyzed below are in the English language, these databases perform a role that supports, but does not supplant, the role of the legal translator.  FCIL librarians should, therefore, not only be versed in the sources for documents, but also resources that can turn the raw material of these documents into locally useful work product.  While these databases are useful, then, for providing access to source documents, they are not language resources in and of themselves, and this analysis actively discourages readers from approaches the databases below as such.

Any database, however, is ultimately only as useful as the data it stores.  And while, as noted above, the Internet may have facilitated access to legal materials from Spanish-language jurisdictions of late, it has not had the same impact upon publication processes and schedules within particular jurisdictions.  As such, the relatively wealthier jurisdictions among (and within) the Hispanophone world are publishing boletines and gacetas with more frequency than their less wealthy counterparts.

This disparity places practical limitations upon the utility of some of the databases below.  It may also explain why some of the larger commercial databases have shied away from offering materials from certain jurisdictions.  In the face of such limitations, however, a surprising amount of material is available online from most of the world’s Spanish-speaking jurisdictions.

2.2.   Evaluation-related Threshold Issues

While much has been written on the methodologies and techniques of evaluation of materials in general, and evaluation of databases in particular, “ultimate guidelines [for such evaluations] have yet to be formulated,” due, in no small part, to the changing nature of research interfaces, research platforms, and the substantive documents that form the core goals of a legal research task. [4]

Ultimately, database evaluation strikes at the etymological core of the word: evaluation is focused upon the nature and quality of the data, as well as the nature and quality of the base that houses (and provides access) to such data.  While this is hardly a revolutionary statement, I offer it to assure readers that my analysis attempts to reinforce this fundamental approach for the purposes of evaluation.  Analysis below will provide various aspects, or entry points into discussion, of the nature and content of the data in question, as well as the access that each host provides.

I will attempt to organize my discussion around the following framework, making allowances when necessary in consideration of distinct aspects of the database in question:  my analysis will focus upon aspects of database content and meta-content, and then turn to evaluating the access that each database offers.  Roznovschi’s authoritative work in this area asks for analysis of content and meta-content through items such as: accuracy of source documents, the currency and timeliness of these documents, as well as the overall scope and coverage of the database content, information about author and publisher, and other descriptive or identifying elements.  She focuses attention to database access along a similar rubric: addressing indexing between digital and print documents, availability of documents in more than one language, aspects and quality of search functions, stability of the servers, costs, copyright restrictions, and licensing issues.  My criteria will use these elements as touchstones, but as some of these distinct aspects are more relevant for some databases, and less for others, and I will address what strikes me as relevant, and omit, in the interests of space, those that strike me as less relevant.  It is my hope that these aspects are clear and distinct in the analysis below.

3.      Commercial Databases for Spanish-Language Jurisdictions

There are a large number of commercial databases for Spanish-language jurisdictions, and most are specific to the jurisdiction in question.  This article has selected three commercial vendors for analysis, an analysis which has been largely limited by conditions of cost and licensing access.

3.1.    LexisNexis

LexisNexis’ offerings with respect to Spanish-language materials may surprise newer FCIL librarians.  While law librarians of all stripes have come to rely upon LexisNexis as one of the two foundational platforms for domestic CALR, it is important to remember that this service offers a limited, but useful, core of materials for Argentina and Mexico, as well as a modest collection of Spanish materials.  As one of the more significant vendors of legal information, librarians and researchers who use LexisNexis manage to avoid the labor costs associated with verifying or authenticating the material they find on this platform, costs that experienced FCIL librarians know are not necessarily insignificant.

Finding these materials is relatively easy:  from the main Total Research System directory, select the link marked “International Law” under the “Area of Law – By Topic” set of links in the top right hand corner of the “Look for a Source” directory.  This link will take you to the “International Law” sub-directory, at which point you should select the “Global Legal” link, again located near the top-right hand corner of the directory.

Selecting “Global Legal” reveals the global scope of LexisNexis’ collections, by nation.  While Argentina, Mexico, and Spain are the only Hispanophone nations available at the time of this writing, the collection focused upon Spain is limited to Mealey’s Litigation Report as a resource for International Arbitration, and Bender’s “Doing Business in Spain” as a general treatise and basic guide to issues common in legal practice.  Lexis’ collection of materials from Spain, alas, does not cover the Spanish código , nor does it provide access to the boletines ; their coverage does not include any regional sources for Spanish legal materials either.

However, as a database more focused on the North American market, it stands to reason that Lexis’ offerings for Spanish-language jurisdictions would be more focused upon American, rather than European jurisdictions.  To that end, both collections for Argentina and Mexico are much richer than Lexis’ offerings for Spain.  FCIL librarians should note that all of the materials available from these specific collections are available in Spanish only (save for some text in the source description notes); as such, you will want to use the pertinent search terms in Spanish from the relevant jurisdiction when searching these databases.

The Argentine collection is relatively comprehensive, containing the Civil Code and a broad variety of subject-specific codes, including separate databases for criminal and criminal procedure codes ( código penal , & código procesal penal ), the national mining code, commercial code, aeronautical code, and customs code.  This collection also includes access to the Argentine Civil Laws ( leyes ), and other particular laws covering subject matter similar to that offered in Lexis’ collection of code coverage.  The distinction between the two is a matter of practice:  the código is a comprehensive treatment of the subject matter in question, while the leyes deal with particular aspects of the subject matter in question.  Librarians researching Argentine statutes will need to keep this distinction in mind, and direct patrons to one database or the other as each individual’s need dictates.  Both códigos and leyes are equally binding in Argentina, so librarians may also want to make sure that patrons search both databases to ensure comprehensive research on a question of law.

Unfortunately, currency is something of an issue with respect to Lexis’ coverage of Argentine jurisprudence:  as of this writing, none of their Argentine databases offer materials dated more recently than February 1997, and these databases are only updated annually.  However, coverage in this collection dates back to 1853, rendering this collection highly useful for historical research, especially when considering the access that Lexis’ powerful search capacities provide.  However, FCIL librarians seeking more current legal material from Argentina will consult official government sources directly, as detailed and annotated in the “ Research Guide to the Argentine Legal System .”

Lexis’ Mexico coverage is even more comprehensive than their offerings from Argentina.  The folder marked “ Legislacion (Legislation)” offers individual databases that provide access to current Federal Laws, the Mexican Civil Code, Penal Code, and Commercial Code, as well as a wide variety of subject-specific legislation, including Labor laws, Electoral laws, Mexican International law, Health laws, Public Notary laws, and state-specific databases covering the states of Aguascalientes, Jalisco, Mexico, & Nuevo Leon, as well as the Distrito Federal de Mexico.  Each of these files is current through October 2006 (in stark contrast to the Argentine files noted above). Most importantly for the FCIL librarian (and for anyone researching the current state of Mexican jurisprudence), Lexis also offers access to Mexico’s legal boletín , the Diario Oficial de la Federacion , and this file is updated within 48 hours of the publication of the printed source.  As a civil law jurisdiction, this information is of paramount importance, and the inclusion of this file reflects Lexis’ understanding of the significance that these materials assume to practice in this jurisdiction. LexisNexis also offers access to Mexican case law in the folder entitled “ Jurisprudencia (Case Law).”  The database entitled “ Jurisprudencia de la Corte Suprema de Mexico ” contains decisions of the Mexican Supreme Court, current through October 2006, and updated regularly, as that court hands decisions down.  The other database in this folder, entitled “ Jurisprudencia – Tribunal Fiscal de la Federacion ” includes decisions from the Mexican Tax Courts, but unfortunately, the coverage of this database ends at October 1996.  The file tagged “ Archivos (Archive)” contains databases collecting circulars covering Mexican banking, securities, and the national retirement system.  Unfortunately, these databases are also rather outdated, providing access to documents that vary in currency from 1994 to the present.

With all of this content available, and available via a very powerful and easily programmable search function, LexisNexis’ inclusion of a ready reference file, entitled Doctrina y Referencia has enhanced practical access to the information in their Spanish-language databases.  This file offers material from Henry Dahl’s Spanish-English Law Dictionary (Hein, 1992), the University of New Mexico’s United States-Mexico Law Journal , as well as the WTO’s Trade Policy Review for Mexico.  By including access to these reference tools, Lexis enhances the information they provide to lawyers, librarians, and students of Mexican law.  However, librarians will also want to advise patrons that access to the Dahl’s Dictionary is unfortunately found only in the file tagged “Mexico and not accessible from other files for Spanish-language jurisdictions as well.

Ultimately, the Lexis collection of legal materials for Spanish-language jurisdictions is relatively strong, and researchers who are looking for a comprehensive database of Mexican legal material should find much of what they need at LexisNexis.  Combined with Lexis search capacity, and the ability to search multiple-databases at once, Lexis has the potential to develop into a comprehensive, multi-jurisdictional collection of databases and legal information for Spanish-language nations, much as it has already subsumed this role with respect to the legal landscape of the U.S.A.

3.2.   vLex

The vLex search portal is a relative newcomer, compared to LexisNexis, but one that promises to be a competitive entry in the global market for CALR.  At present, vLex offers comprehensive access to a broad gamut of Spanish legal materials, yet they also have plans to expand into Argentina, France, Portugal, and more nations as well.  While the Spanish materials are only available, appropriately enough, in Spanish, vLex is able to compete with Lexis in the North American market by presenting an English-language search interface.  In fact, vLex allows for researchers to search their database in French, Catalan, and Spanish search interfaces as well, which positions them uniquely for access to the European markets as well as the North American.

The interface itself is a tabbed platform, like Lexis and Westlaw present:  vLex offers easy access to pages tabbed as “Home,” “News,” “Legislation,” “Cases,” “Books & Journals,” and “Forms.”  However, vLex has not only made this interface cleverly available in several languages, they have also taken advantage of visual presentation in a way that has heretofore eluded both LexisNexis and Westlaw.  The Home page prominently features cover images of critical Spanish law reviews and boletines , and the News page features full color images of the major newspapers in Spain, and offers access to the full-text of these newspapers.  This development, in itself, does not necessarily provide more access, but it is a more user-friendly presentation, which is a minor, but hardly insignificant distinction.  Furthermore, with respect to documents of positive law, allowing online users to access the cover images also presents researchers with a useful proxy for authentication: by presenting the images of the source text, vLex shows researchers what these sources look like, which allows experienced FCIL librarians to apprehend the provenance of the text contained in the relevant vLex databases.

In terms of pure search capability, vLex’s search functions compete nicely with those available from Lexis and Westlaw, but with a slightly different mechanism.  Rather than programming limiters, connectors, and proximity tools directly into the search box, researchers must select these commands from a drop-down menu just below the “Full Text” search box.  As such, it is difficult to combine these individual commands into a larger, complex query; at least, it is more difficult to do this in vLex than in Lexis or Westlaw.  Searching in other fields, such as title, citation number, date, location, or document type, requires that the researcher fill in separate boxes, in an interface that is reminiscent of earlier iterations of Lexis and Westlaw’s web-based search interfaces (and a functionality that both these latter databases still allow).

The easy availability of news and forms, to be sure, certainly adds value to vLex as a research portal, but the access vLex provides to legislation and to cases is unparalleled.  By offering the text of all regional boletines , as well as a broad library of Spanish constitutional, civil, fiscal, labor, military, technology, public and administrative laws, vLex presents access to a highly comprehensive Spanish library of positive law.  By presenting a multiplicity of avenues for patrons to navigate to these collections, vLex has managed to enhance access to their broad set of source material by concentrating upon user-friendly interface design.  Access to forms, in particular, struck me as an instructive example:  unlike both Lexis and Westlaw, which tend to embed individual forms within larger and more comprehensive databases, vLex created and tagged a stand-alone search portal for legal forms.  For example, lawyers, librarians, and researchers in search of a contract governing real estate transactions in Spain need only enter the terms “ vender bienes inmuebles[5] in order to yield over 50 results.  Furthermore, these results also offer the option to narrow one’s search to items containing only that phrase.  As if this weren’t useful enough, vLex also allows users to download these forms directly into Microsoft Word, thus allowing the real estate attorney full desktop access to the critical documentation necessary for conducting property transactions in Spain.

My own experience exploring vLex left me with the impression that the entire body of Spanish law and legal practice was quite literally at my fingertips.  While vLex could stand a bit of English-language editorial guidance at various places in the English-language interface, it is clearly the most comprehensive single-source for Spanish legal material.  Furthermore, I did not see much in the way of “help” functions.  To be sure, the interface is clear and easy enough to navigate, and my own experience with vLex’s telephone-based customer service struck me as prompt and courteous.  Nevertheless, it may be useful for this information provider to consider another access point for user help or self-help.  At any rate, as vLex expands their coverage to include materials from other Spanish-language jurisdictions, one can hope that this portal will allow for multi-jurisdictional search capacity, but until that day, vLex remains a very powerful access portal for those who study or practice law in or relating to the Kingdom of Spain.

3.3.   Westlaw

In distinction to LexisNexis’ offerings, Westlaw offers coverage for more Spanish-language jurisdictions.  The Westlaw collections for foreign jurisdictions are relatively easy to find:  from the Westlaw directory, select the folder entitled “International/Worldwide Materials.”  This leads you to a directory of geographically defined sub-folders, and you’ll find Spanish-language jurisdictions under the following categories:  North America (for Mexico), Central America and the Caribbean (for Puerto Rico), and South America (which contains documents covering Argentina, Chile, & Venezuela).  Upon selecting one of these sub-folders, choose the file marked “Individual Country Materials” to access jurisdiction-specific materials for a given nation.

Unfortunately, the scope of coverage that Westlaw offers for these jurisdictions is much narrower.  In the South American jurisdictions mentioned above, for example, Westlaw only offers access to a number of “Business & News” databases, but no access to official boletines or gacetas , nor do they offer access to códigos , leyes , or other government documentation of positive law.  (The file for Brazil does offer access to a database of ENFLEX Brazil Environmental, Health and Safety Regulations, but since Brazil is a Portuguese-speaking jurisdiction, and not a Spanish-language jurisdiction, this inclusion is not particularly useful for the purposes of this article).

In contrast, Westlaw’s coverage of Puerto Rican jurisdictions is quite strong, but since Puerto Rican court decisions contribute to United States’ jurisprudence, one would expect comprehensive coverage in this area.  Westlaw’s coverage of Spanish jurisprudence, however, is rather slight, limited to providing access from Dialog’s Trademarkscan database, as well as access to the ENFLEX Spain Environmental, Health and Safety Regulations.  Again, Westlaw offers access to a variety of news databases that cover Spain (including the important newspapers el Pais and el Mundo, dating from 2002 through the current day).

Westlaw does present current coverage of the Mexican Diario Oficial de la Federación , and this file is updated each day after 12.00 p.m. in the Central time zone.  Westlaw also offers a database containing the ENFLEX Mexico Environmental, Health and Safety Regulations.  Finally, Westlaw also presents the full-text of articles from UNM’s United States-Mexico Law Journal.  Unfortunately, this is the extent of Westlaw’s offerings with respect to Mexican law.  However, this reviewer remains frustrated by the fact that West does offer, through printed media, access to highly authoritative sources of information on Mexican Law:  namely, Jorge Vargas’ comprehensive treatise on Mexican Law, and his Mexican Legal Dictionary and Desk Reference.  LexisNexis has already enhanced their coverage of Spanish-language legal materials by offering access to Dahl’s dictionary through their databases, and if West were to offer online access to the Vargas materials through their databases, and combine this access with source document coverage as comprehensive as Lexis’ offerings, West would clearly provide the most authoritative, the most useful, and the most comprehensive access to Mexican legal materials online.  However, as we say in Spanish, “ Ojalá.[6]

The rest of West’s coverage is rather spotty:  they do offer online access to their Dictionary of NAFTA Terms, as well as the Rules of Procedure for the Inter-American Commercial Arbitration Commission, and the full text of the NAFTA.  As with the other vendors above, these materials are available only in Spanish, as each of these vendors seems to be keenly aware of the monetary and non-monetary costs associated with translations of legal documents.  However, until West simply expands the scope and breadth of legal material for Spanish-language jurisdictions, they will not be able to effectively compete with the access available from vLex or from LexisNexis.

3.4.   Foreign Law Guide

Playing the role of Reference Work for legal regulations globally, this database provides relevant context and complete bibliographic citations to both primary (legislation) and selected secondary sources for research in foreign and international law. The updating of each country is made by a local contributor which offers in addition comprehensive and reliable information regarding the legal system and legal history, an outline of the judicial and legislative system; links to major online sources and identification of major legal publications. In all cases the information is organized in a way that facilitates their consultation and navigability by jurisdiction or by topic.

The Foreign Law Guide includes all Spanish-speakers Latin American countries, however, the frequency of its updates are, for the moment, irregular, forcing researchers to double-check the actuality of the information provided.

For the moment, FLG focus only on codes and statutes, leaving outside jurisprudence.

Although all the Spanish speaking jurisdiction in Latin America follow the form of Civil Law, therefore there is no “binding precedent” figure, in the legal reality, jurisprudence is a major source of law for many jurisdictions. This requires combining the use of this database with other databases that provide case law if the investigation requires a thorough search of the available legal sources in different jurisdictions.

4.      Non-Commercial Databases and Online Information Sources for Spanish-Language Jurisdictions

Many non-commercial or open-access databases provide access to laws and legal information for Spanish-language jurisdictions around the world, and many of them are accessible from a number of online platforms, such as Global Research Tools at NYU , Columbia University’s Guide to Finding Foreign Law Resources on the Internet , and, of course, the International Legal Materials (ILM) links list by ASIL.  Unfortunately, limitations of space and time, rather than access restrictions (as in the case of my analysis of commercial databases above) have led me to limit this discussion to the databases described below.

4.1.    GLIN

According to its Web Page , “[t]he US Library of Congress created the original GLIN Network in 1996 and the United States supported it financially until 2012 at a cost of $3 to 5 million a year. Pursuant to budgetary constraints in the US, the GLIN operating system was shut down in 2012.”

For this reason, and until the founding returns, the information regarding this database is outdated.

The Global Legal Information Network (GLIN) is another example of the Library of Congress’ (LOC) traditional excellence in the collection and distribution of data.  As of this writing, GLIN offers access to over 130,000 source documents from 44 national jurisdictions, international organizations, and centers of study.  Subject to the Intellectual Property laws of the nations represented in its database, GLIN offers the full-text of laws, legal literature, and judicial decisions freely to users, and offers the full-text of materials whose nations restrict online access to their legal information only to GLIN members.  Any user with a connection to the Internet and a sufficient browser may search GLIN’s records, and the search results themselves usually contain a minor wealth of further information, often including an English-language abstract of the source material.

As befits a fine, public-access source of legal information, this database offers a great deal of material about itself:  the “About GLIN” link in the top right-hand corner of the screen leads to a uniquely helpful pop-up window that guides the user through a highly detailed Help Center which includes not only tips on searching the database, but also source information detailing the jurisdictions and the kinds of documents that one can find on GLIN.  To be sure, the pop-up Help Center could benefit from a self-contained navigation screen, as not everyone who uses GLIN will think to (or, in the case of some Macintosh users, be able to) right-click as a navigational strategy.  Still, the Help Center is, for the most part, a very useful (and, one presumes, highly under-utilized feature) of this invaluable resource.

GLIN’s search interfaces vary between minimal and maximal control.  This writer prefers to search GLIN with the “Search Options” enabled (see screen shot above).  The other option is to search GLIN via one text box, with no options for defining or refining one’s search available.  These interface decisions render the results of any query into one of two types of results:  without “Search Options” enabled, one will wade through a set of results characterized as low-precision and high-recall.  Enabling the “Search Options” allows the librarian to increase the precision, but at a cost of reducing the number of items returned.  To be sure, given the impeccable provenance of documents that GLIN makes accessible, a low-yield, high-precision result may be optimal.  Nevertheless, fully enabling “Search Options” leads a researcher to a very imposing search interface, and one that will intimidate many novice users.  It is important to remember that one may create a highly useful search on GLIN through the “Search Options” side of the database search interface by merely selecting one or two key variables (such as jurisdiction or language) from the plethora of options presented.

The GLIN search thesaurus is also simultaneously helpful and confusing.  The “Subject Terms” window on the lower left hand screen appears to simply be another entry point for search terms or keywords for documents that one might search for in GLIN.  However, this window is actually an entry point for controlled thesaurus terms, and only the link tagged “Find Subject Terms” serves to indicate this function to the researcher.  It is easy to imagine a more local and precise “help guide” perhaps triggered by hovering over a particular section of the interface, that might make these distinctions clearer to the researcher approaching GLIN for the first time.  That said, however, the Subject Term interface does allow for point-and-click selection of search terms, and the online thesaurus is very helpful, even to novice searchers, when choosing between controlled vocabulary terms.  The Subject Term thesaurus will refine search results from this database, which is helpful for the researcher whose query has returned too many sources, but not so helpful for the researcher whose query has returned too few sources.

My search along this thesaurus, for subject terms “Intellectual Property” limited to the jurisdiction of “Argentina” across all categories of documents yielded 19 results dating back to 1933, each from the Boletin Oficial de la Republica Argentina. A similar search limited to the jurisdiction of “Mexico” returned 28 items.  Unfortunately, both of these nations appear to be among those that limit access to the full text of their legal literature to GLIN subscribers. Licensing and access issues may be the greatest limitation that GLIN faces, and while this database provides as much access as possible in the face of such limitations, GLIN would be a much more useful resource were LOC able to resolve these issues with the source nations.

In general, GLIN is about as authoritative as an open-access legal database can be.  Unlike other certain other open-access databases, the documents that GLIN stores are of impeccable provenance, due in large part to the editorial control exercised by the LOC attorneys and librarians who contribute to this project.  While the interface can be confusing, Latin American jurisdictions are amply represented in this database’s collection, and GLIN also offers the added value of providing English-language abstracts for certain items.  Researchers who need access to statutes, to boletínes or gacetas , to judicial decisions, or to regulatory language from many Latin American jurisdictions should look here first, as it does provide very useful access to these materials.

4.2.   Latin Laws

On first glance, the Latin Laws page appears to embody the aspirations of many who use the Internet for FCIL research.  The front page is clear and well-designed, apparently allowing researchers to find information by jurisdiction, or by type or legal discipline.  However, this site is rife with discrepancies between appearance and function.  Although Latin Laws promotes itself as a Latin-American law library, some the links offered herein leave much to be desired.

Despite the listing of categories and areas of law, researchers have only two entry points into this page:  either through the search engine text box at the top of the page, for general queries, or through the list of jurisdictions that scroll down the left-hand side of the page.  As such, this page seems to become more of a directory than a database.

Unfortunately, it is not necessarily an easier or simpler directory to navigate than LOC’s own “ Nations of the World ” site.  As a matter of fact, navigating this directory to find the Código Civil de la Nación de Colombia (Colombian Civil Code) ultimately leads one to the same source hosted on the LOC’s “Nations of the World” site, a source that comes directly from the Colombian Senate.  Searching the Latin Laws directory for a link to Argentine Intellectual Property laws leads one to a source that resolves directly out of a third-party source by the name of “Portal de Abogados.”  Selecting the jurisdiction of Guatemala and following the link for the Código Penal (Penal Code) reveals a 118-page PDF hosted by the OAS, but one that is absent any objective indicia of the Guatemalan legislature, save for the first two lines of the document, reading “CODIGO PENAL DE GUATEMALA, DECRETO No. 17-73,” as well as the prefatory language of this code section, reading “EL CONGRESO DE LA REPÚBLICA DE GUATEMALA.”

To be sure, these examples merely indicate that, as noted above, the Latin Laws page is more of a portal or directory than a database.  Unfortunately, despite a more visually aesthetic search interface, it’s difficult to discern how this directory improves upon the current state of the art.  More to the point, the LOC directory adds value to the material it hosts by virtue of the editorial function offered by that library’s resources.  It is difficult to discern the extent and the quality of editorial function at Latin Laws, especially when so many of their documents are hosted outside of that particular domain.

Ultimately, this is a source that may be valuable, but only to that researcher who arrives at her search fore-armed with the skills and experience to allow her to distinguish reliable sources from non-reliable sources.  Experienced FCIL librarians may find this site to be useful, but they’re also likely to have already found what they were looking for on GLIN or another LOC source.  Until this site expands upon current offerings, it’s hard to recommend it, especially to newer FCIL librarians.

Other issue about this website is its lack of constant update. It doesn’t always inform or update its information of the mayor legal changes in the countries. For example, the Civil Code (today Civil and Commercial code of the Nation) in Argentina has been amended and it hasn’t offers access to the updated legislation. Also, as many other websites with legal information, the Spanish version offers more tools for researchers and access to more information than the English version.

4.3.   LII’s Proyecto de Base de Datos en Español

Following the model set by the World Legal Information Institute (WorldLII), the “Spanish Project” seeks to provide open-access to legal materials from Spanish-language jurisdictions despite the licensing and proprietary issues.  This site currently focuses upon the major bodies of public international law affecting the Spanish-speaking nations of the world.  Unfortunately, this is a collection of databases that features a modest depth and breadth.

The WorldLII databases offer two search options:  the standard search box, as shown above, with options for searching by title and by full-text. The “advanced search” option allows the user to choose from among the multitude of WorldLII databases, and run a Boolean query; a search by phrase, word or words; or a search among document titles, case names, or names of legislation.  Unfortunately, the paucity of databases pertinent to Spanish-speaking jurisdictions, as noted above, makes the “advanced search” a bit inapposite for our purposes.

In a manner similar to GLIN, this site is as transparent as possible regarding the material they house. As such, selecting the title of one of the databases available reveals the scope of the collection. The WorldLII’s Proyecto de Base de Datos en Español only provides access to texts from the following sources:  the Central American Court of Justice, Court of Justice of the Andean Community, Inter-American Court of Human Rights, North American Free Trade Area (NAFTA) Decisions, Venezuela Domain Name Decisions decided under the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN)’s  Uniform Domain-Name Dispute-Resolution Policy (UDRP), and Mexico Domain Name Decisions, decided under ICANN’s UDRP.  As a source that is limited in scope, it is a useful stop for the researcher who knows that what she is looking for is contained within one of these databases.  As most FCIL librarians know, however, it is rare for a research problem to present with such tightly drawn limitations around it.

More to the point, this database is not only limited in scope, but in depth as well.  The ICANN materials, for example, are only available through WorldLII for documents from 2001 onward.  UDRP decisions, however, date from December 1999.  Moreover, Venezuela and Mexico are hardly the only Spanish-language domains subject to ICANN’s UDRP, yet WorldLII does not offer access to Argentine Domain Name Decisions, Chilean Domain Name Decisions, or Spanish Domain Name Decisions.

In short, this source is promising, but not quite yet useful for newer FCIL librarians.  As WorldLII adds more databases to the Proyecto , and add more materials to each database, this source should also become more useful.

4.4.   Página Jurídica

This source generally focuses upon Spain, but for a link to Latin American legal websites (discussed below).  The highlights of Página Jurídica are that, as a rule, it tends to provide easy access to boletines (listed under the tag “ publicaciones ”), and the overall layout relies upon the user-friendly and comprehensive “directory” format.  The page proper presents a multi-lingual presentation format (Catalá, Spanish, and English), but the source materials are offered only in Spanish or Catalá, whichever language is appropriate to the jurisdiction in question.  A good number of links from this site are broken (such as Contract-Soft), and do not resolve into the announced destination.  Other links are out of date (such as Boletín de Actualidad de Derecho Civil from Universidad de la Laguna).

Links to commercial sites (such as the online contracts for sale through El Mundo) tend to be more functional here than the collected links to non-commercial sites.  However, this site appears to evidence little editorial control, leading the librarian to approach this website by relying upon an old methodology known as trial-and-error.

The link for Latin American law ( Dret hispanoamericá ) is also somewhat disappointing. The introduction claims that Página Jurídica provides an index for Spanish and Latin American laws, but the introduction also (apparently) contains software that cues a mildly annoying pop-up window.  While many of the sources Página Jurídica seeks to allow users to access are valid sources, important links (such as Georgetown University’s Political Database of the Americas, or the OAS’ Commission on Human Rights) simply require updating.  This is a site that sorely needs the strong hand of the webmaster.

As with the main entry pertaining to Spain, most national entries allow for access to each jurisdiction’s boletín .  Still, many other links (such as the link for records of the Chilean Constitutional Court, hosted by that nation’s National Library) are inexplicably broken, or at best lead to sites of uncertain provenance and do not appear to be repaired anytime soon.

Overall, while this is a fine effort, bad links, and links to dubious sources of information, cast serious aspersions upon the utility that Página Jurídica can offer.  Hopefully those behind this site can rally the efforts needed to revise the content links in order to render this site more useful.

5.      Official Access for Spanish-Latin American Law and Jurisprudence

5.1.    Argentina

To access Argentinean law, the Official Gazette ( Boletín Oficial ) provides free access for all laws, decrees and regulations from both the legislative and the executive power.

The jurisprudence can be accessed from different official sources.

It can also be accessed from Infojus , a database from the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights.

5.2.   Bolivia

To access the Bolivian Law, the Gaceta Oficial del Estado Plurinacional de Bolivia (its Official Gazette) provides free access to the normative and also offers a search by number of the law but also for date and keyword.

The jurisprudence from the Supreme Tribunal of Justice   and the Constitutional Tribunal   can be freely accessed through its Webpage which provides good search engines.

Lower courts’ case law are difficult to access through Internet although in some cases particular jurisdictions offers some leading cases related to specific topics.

5.3.   Chile

The Official Gazette from Chile (Boletín Oficial) doesn’t offer full access to the official updated legislation. However, the Library of Congress ( Biblioteca del Congreso ) offers free access to the legislation and codices (this lasts not in its official version) with a search engine by keyword.

In the matter of jurisprudence, Chile unlike other countries in the region, offers access to its full jurisprudence, not only to the Supreme Court, but also for lower courts through the Website of the Judicial Power ( Poder Judicial De Chile ). Its search engine allows the search by keyword and other relevant information like date, jurisdiction, judges, etc.

5.4.   Colombia

The Official Gazette from Colombia (Diario Oficial) offers free access to both updated and historical legislation of the Republic. Its Website offers an English version to some of their information however not official translation of the law available. It also has a comprehensive search engine to access the law and legislation. In this case, the information is only available in Spanish.

In the matter of jurisprudence, Colombia doesn’t have a cohesive and free Website with all the case law available. However, recently they developed a website offering simultaneous thematic consultation to the four higher courts: Constitutional Court, Supreme Court of the Nation, Superior Council of the Judiciary and State Council. The search engine only provides search by subject and it doesn’t offer any type of filters, which makes the search, depending on the subject, difficult and inefficient.

It would be better if it is needed a particular jurisprudence or from a particular Court or date, to access the different case law visiting each court’s Website. The Supreme Court of the Nation’s Website offers a search engine of its jurisprudence , but additionally the Webpage offers documents in particular subjects considered of interest by the Supreme Court (these documents and compendia are available since the year 2006)

The Constitutional Court’s Website offers great tools for research in the matter of Colombian constitutional discussions.

Since 2011, the Constitutional Court offers English access of an abstract of its most important decisions as a response to the request by readers from all around the world. Click here to access to those abstracts.

The Constitutional Court search engine is easy to access and it offers both simple and advanced search.

The jurisprudence of lower courts is not found easily in one place, but depending on the subject, you can find Webpages compiling both high courts and lower courts’ case law on the issues of copyright , right to education , corporate law , among others.

5.5.   Costa Rica

In the matter of legislation, Costa Rica has The National Press. The National Press is the official media of the Costa Rican state, which provides legal security to the inhabitants of the Republic, through the publication of all documents required to be understood as official. The documents available through the Website are both legislation and executive orders, and they can be accessed through a cohesive search engine. All the information is available only in Spanish.

Costar Rica has very good search engines to access its high courts’ jurisprudence. The Costa Rican Legal Information System offers documents that can be found both through simple and advanced search and its results shows records as the rules and jurisprudence information on an integrated basis. It contains legislation enacted since 1821 (laws, executive orders, international conventions, regulations and other rules of general application). Moreover, the jurisprudence of courts, Chambers of Cassation and the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court; administrative jurisprudence of the Attorney General’s Office and the Ministry of Finance.

Like in other countries, specific subjects can be accessed through different Websites. The Jurisprudence and rules of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal are full available although its search engine isn’t very friendly. The General Accounting the republic also offers access to its main documents and the case law related to its affairs. Finally, the Ibero-American Observatory of data protection also offers information on this regard in the Costa Rican jurisdiction.

5.6.   Cuba

To access legal information from Cuba is not a difficult task. The Official Gazette (Gaceta Oficial de la República de Cuba) is the official organ constitutionally recognized of legislation publicity. The Ministry of Justice is responsible for its publication and is the custodian of his archive. It offers a comprehensive database divided by subject with an acceptable search engine, only available in Spanish.

To access Cuban jurisprudence, the Website of the Supreme Court ( Tribunal Supremo Popular ) offers a selection of its jurisprudence organizing by date and subject. Also, the same website divides its information between the different chambers and offers also a selection of case law from the provincial courts. The information is only in English and the site does not offer a search engine, but instead a list of leading cases divided by subject and date.

5.7.   Dominican Republic

The updated and official legislation from the Dominican Republic is published on its Official Gazette ( Gaceta Oficial ). It search engine is comprehensive and offers multiples search fields, including the traditional searches by subject and date, but also by the Minister or President in charge at the moment of the enacted of the law, decree or any other document from both the legislative and executive power.

The Dominican jurisprudence can be freely accessed (only in Spanish) through the Website from the Judicial Power which provides a database of the unpublished rulings, the Judicial Bulletin (1994-2014), historical rulings, orders of the president; disciplinary decisions, decisions on extradition, administrative decisions on individual cases and general jurisprudence.

5.8.   Ecuador

The updated and official legislation from Ecuador is available by date through the Website of the Regisro Oficial , official body from the legislative and executive power. It is not possible to search laws, decrees or other executive resolutions by subject or by other information field. It can only be browse by date of enactment. However, the Jurisprudence can be accessed and searched through the Website of the National Court of Justice (Corte Nacional de Justicia) and offers multiple search fields by thesaurus or keyword, date of the resolution, both plaintiff and defendant, number of resolution and other information about the trial. Additionally, it offers a search engine for each Court chamber and presidential resolutions.

5.9.   El Salvador

The historical and updated accesses to legislation and executive resolutions from El Salvador are available through the Imprenta Nacional’s Website . The access is not very friendly even for Spanish speakers. However it is possible to access legislation by date or subject.

Jurisprudence can be access through the Legal Documentation Centre (Centro de Documentación Judicial) which also offers selected legislation, international documents and academic papers. The Website provides both simple and advanced search and filters by date and jurisdiction.

5.10.       Guatemala

Unlike most countries in the region, to access Guatemalan legislation isn’t free, at least in the official and comprehensive way. To access the full text of legislation through the Official Gazette requires user name and password, but other websites offers full access to legislation by subject. Such is the case of the Information System on Foreign Trade , through which the laws related to intellectual property, e-commerce, international investment, among other related subjects can be accessed.

Finally, through the National Congress Website , can be accessed the newest enacted laws and the drafts for national legislation.

In the matter of Jurisprudence, Guatemala exhibits the same limitations for the access to its law. The Supreme Court of Justice doesn’t have a cohesive search engine and only can be accessed the sentences related to constitutional rights (amparo actions) . However, its Crime Chamber offers better access to its jurisprudence through a different Website, including what would be a novelty for the region: access to the ruling regarding the execution of the judgments of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

5.11. Honduras

As in Guatemala, the access to official and updated legislation in Honduras through its Official Gazette requires subscription. However, the Judicial Power offers a list of important laws and all the Codices of the Republic . Also, Lexadin Website offers a list organizing by subject of several laws from Honduras. This list isn’t updated and it should be consulted carefully for that reason.

The Jurisprudence in Honduras can be freely accessed through the Judicial Power’s Website . The search engine is available for both simple and advanced search, also offers a list of subjects to browse the case law, although it is not very friendly and sometimes isn’t available and looks outdated.

5.12.        Mexico

The Official Gazette (Diario Oficial de la Federación) offers a great search engine to access all federal legislation from Mexico. The documents can be searched by date, subject or by legislative period. It also offers advanced filters to navigate within the results.

The full text of the jurisprudence in México is available only recently. The Supreme Court’s ruling can be accessed through its Website. The search is an advanced search by topic or date. But it isn’t very comprehensive because the full text is only available for the last five years. Previous decisions are not available, and can only be accessed its standards through Judicial weekly newspaper of the Federation.

5.13.        Nicaragua

The official legislation from Nicaragua is freely available since 2007 through its Official Gazette (La Gaceta: Diario Oficial) . It offers a search box which is not very good and it will be better to brows the legislation by subject or date.

To access Jurisprudence, the Website for the Judicial Power does not provide a unique search engine; therefore the search should be made through the different chambers of the Court. It is available the Constitutional Chamber , the Criminal Chamber , the Civil Chamber and finally the Contentious Administrative Chamber.

5.14.        Panama

The official and updated legislation from Panama is available through the Official Gazette (Gaceta Oficial de la República de Panamá) which offers a comprehensive and friendly search engine. It can be accessed both legislative and executive documents in the official version PDF format.

In the matter of Jurisprudence, the Judicial Documentation Center offers jurisprudence for all the high courts (it isn’t possible to access the lower courts judgments) with both simple and advanced search and good filters to navigate within the results.

5.15.        Paraguay

The Official Gazette (Gaceta Oficial) provides free access to all legislation and executive orders. The documents only can be found through simple search and my topic or number of law or decree. Also the Website offers the possibility to browse both laws and Decrees from the last 25 years.

The Jurisprudence from the Supreme Court is easily to access and to search. However, no other high courts or lower courts offer their documents through Internet. But it is also possible to subscribe for free to the Judicial Bulletin to have the latest judgments not only from Supreme Court but also from other courts organized by subject.

5.16.        Peru

El Peruano (like “The Peruvian”) is the name of the Official Gazette. It offers free access to the legislation from 1995 to date. It is searchable by date, jurisdiction and executive body. It also can be downloaded in PDF format and filters by date are available.

The Jurisprudence is easily to access. The Website from the Judicial Power offers both search into the high courts’ jurisprudence and also a systematized case law from the different courts. It is arrange by subject and jurisdiction.

5.17.        Uruguay

The Official Gazette (IMO Diario Oficial) is fully accessible and searchable from 1905 to date. However the documents can only be searched by date.

Jurisprudence is also available through Internet and it offers a comprehensive and friendly search engine with simple and advanced fields through the Database of Public National Jurisprudence.

5.18.       Venezuela

Legislation in Venezuela is easy to access through the Official Gazette ( Gaceta official de la República de Venezuela ) and through the Website of the Superior Tribunal of Justice . In both cases the search must be done by date and is only available from the year 2000.

The jurisprudence in Venezuela is only freely accessible through the Website of the Superior Tribunal of Justice (Tribunal Supremo de Justicia – TSJ) . However it offers also the judgments from the different high courts of all the jurisdictions in the country . The search engine allows performing simple and advance search and also provides a list of topics with systematized jurisprudence.

6.      Conclusion

Judging from this small sample, the quality of online information sources for laws from Spanish-speaking jurisdictions is chaotic and uneven.  Some sources offer high-quality material of trustworthy provenance, and others do not.  As with so many other services, the discerning user will usually get what she pays for, but some free sources, such as GLIN, offer materials of the highest quality and most impeccable provenance.

The commercial databases have neatly divided their spheres of authority:  LexisNexis’ offerings seem strongest in Argentina and Mexico, and vLex clearly offers more access to legal materials from Spain than either of the other commercial vendors. Westlaw, however, owns enough content to present a library of Mexican materials that could easily compete quite strongly with Lexis’ offerings.  Whether or not Thomson will allow West to achieve this potential is a wholly different question, and one that is beyond the scope of this note.

GLIN clearly sets the standard among open-access databases, and could conceivably provide very strong competition to the commercial databases.  Given the fact that most of GLIN’s hurdles have been external (IP restrictions from source nations), and that most of the commercial databases have been internal (research, development, and funding), it is doubtful that GLIN will cease to be a potent source of legal material for the Hispanophone world.  As such, future developments in legal databases providing access to materials from Spanish-speaking jurisdictions promise to be defined by more intense competition, manifest in access to more materials, and access that is increasingly user-friendly.  It’s too early to tell which platform will prove to be the dominant provider, but FCIL librarians who work with Spanish-language materials will be the immediate beneficiaries of these trends.

Access to public information in Latin America has taken great strength in recent years. Therefore the three branches: legislative, executive and judicial invest money and efforts to improve access to its resolutions and other binding documents. While commercial databases often provide information more organized and in a friendly way, information emanating from public bodies is easily accessible on the Internet and while it has limitations, eventually will be increasingly and easily its access to it.  

[1] Fernando J. Figueredo, Acquisition of Latin American Legal Materials:  A Burdensome Task [1] (1970).
[2] Id. at [4].
[3] See, e.g. Francisco Avalos, Legal Translation:  Some Tips, Lecture delivered at National Language Resource Center, San Diego State University (24 July 1998).
[4] See Mirela Roznovschi, Toward a Cyberlegal Culture, 90 (2001).  This current guide owes much this work, and in particular, to the exhaustive “Guiding Principles on the Evaluation of Legal Databases” that form Chapter 3 of this book.  The evaluation rubric, in particular, that I offer is explicitly derived and synthesized from Mirela Roznovschi’s more authoritative statement of principles enumerated therein.
[5] This is the Spanish-language civil law term for the sale of real estate.
[6] This common Spanish interjection traces its etymological roots back to the Muslim occupation of Spain, and generally means “if only,” translating literally as an invocation of Allah.