For purposes of this research guide, foreign law is defined as the domestic law of any country other than the United States. Comparative law is the study of the similarities and differences between the laws of two or more countries, or between two or more types of legal systems.
Access to foreign law varies greatly by jurisdiction. Some foreign governments make many types of legal materials freely available online, while others struggle to keep print sources up to date. Countries experiencing political upheavals or economic distress may suspend the publication of legal materials indefinitely.
For non-English-speaking jurisdictions, it is often difficult to find English translations of legal materials. This is especially true for non-commercial legislation and for court decisions in civil law jurisdictions. Americans researching foreign law should be prepared to adjust their expectations with respect to the availability and currentness of English translations.
Key Resources for Foreign & Comparative Law Research
- The Foreign Law Guide
Use this subscription database to identify primary law sources for jurisdictions outside the U.S. Content is organized by jurisdiction and by subject. In some cases, you may find a direct link to an electronic version of a law. In other cases, only a citation to a print source is provided.
This user-friendly database allows you to search by keyword in English for national laws and regulations from 90 jurisdictions worldwide. For non-English-speaking jurisdictions, machine-generated English translations are provided, along with a link to the law or regulation in its original language.
- International Encyclopaedia of Laws (IEL) Online
The IEL covers more than two dozen subjects. Each IEL manual includes multiple jurisdiction-specific treatises (national monographs), which provide detailed summaries of the laws governing a particular subject in that jurisdiction, along with citations to primary sources. Each treatise follows a standard outline, making it easy to compare laws across multiple jurisdictions. To select a manual, scroll through the alphabetical list on the left side of the homepage.
- Multinational Sources Compared
Use this HeinOnline database to identify secondary sources that compare the laws governing a particular subject in multiple jurisdictions. Browse alphabetically by subject or search by keyword. For each resource, a description of the content is provided, along with a list of jurisdictions covered. To determine if the Georgetown Law Library owns a particular source, search for it by title in the library's online catalog.