If you need to determine what laws govern a particular subject in a specific jurisdiction, and you don't have a known statute or regulation as a starting point, begin your research by consulting secondary sources. In addition to providing background information, analysis and commentary, secondary sources will help you to identify relevant primary law materials.
There are two methods of retrieving a known statute or regulation: by jurisdiction or by subject. It is often difficult to determine which method will work best, even for an experienced researcher. You may end up using both methods. Be prepared to experience some frustration and encounter some dead ends along the way. Above all, be persistent. If one source isn't helpful, try another. Don't hesitate to contact a reference librarian if you need help.
Before you start searching, take note of the information you have about the law you are trying to retrieve. This may include one or more of the following:
If you know little or nothing about the jurisdiction's legal system, a good starting point is The Foreign Law Guide, which includes both a jurisdictional component and a "laws by subject" component. For more information about The Foreign Law Guide and other multi-jurisdictional, multi-subject resources, consult the Multi-Jurisdictional Resources page of this research guide.
Listed below are three types of jurisdiction-specific resources for locating foreign laws, along with information about how to access them:
A growing number of online resources offer compilations of laws from multiple jurisdictions that focus on a particular subject. Many of theses subject-specific resources are free to access, but some require a subscription. Some also provide access to English translations. Visit the Foreign Laws by Subject page of this research guide for links to some of the best subject-specific collections of laws from jurisdictions worldwide.
Limitations: Subject-specific resources vary considerably in their jurisdictional and topical coverage. Some resources provide very thorough coverage of certain jurisdictions and little or no coverage of others. Some cover a broad range of related subjects, while others focus narrowly on a single topic. Even the most comprehensive resources inevitably have some gaps in their coverage. In addition, many subject-specific resources are updated infrequently. As a result, they may not be the best places to look for newly enacted laws.
American researchers often encounter language barriers when using government websites or online versions of official gazettes from non-English speaking jurisdictions. Some foreign websites do offer top-level navigation in English, but they usually revert to the language of the jurisdiction the more you drill down.
To avoid language barriers, consider using the Chrome web browser, which incorporates Google's automated translation software. Chrome gives you the option of displaying machine-generated English translations of the webpages you visit, making it easier to locate the law you are seeking. Be wary of using Google's software to translate the primary law, as it may fail to recognize specialized legal jargon or overlook critical nuances in meaning.
Another way to avoid language barriers is by using an English language subscription legal research platform, but these are only available for a small number of foreign jurisdictions. If no English language research platform is available, and if you aren't able to read the language of the jurisdiction, a subject-specific resource may be a better option.