The internet is becoming one of the most popular methods used by governments for dissemination of legal information. Unfortunately there are many factors which impede a legal researcher's ability to find this information online:
- Some governments lack sufficient technological capability;
- Some materials are presented in the country's official language and not in English;
- Language barriers of Western search engines;
- Western search engines' failure to index foreign websites.
Fortunately, librarians, organizations and others worldwide have undertaken the tremendous task of using technology to make life easier for the online legal researcher.
The most efficient way to begin your research is to start with foreign law compilations on the internet. It is important to check these sites systematically because their contents do vary.
The ILS Reference Department here at Harvard Law Library has compiled one such guide which provides a comprehensive listing of compilation webpages plus law links for each country:
Top Four Foreign Law Metapages
The best compilation webpages to search are provided here in order of preference:
- The World Law Institute has compiled an excellent, up-to-date website which offers a directory of legal information websites and government pages organized by country.
- Guide to Law Online, prepared by the Law Library of Congress, is one of the most widely known and heavily used foreign law compilation websites which includes links to government and country information.
- The Law Gateway by Social Sciences Information Gateway is the only foreign law compilation page that uses standardized records for each resource, including subject headings and a host of other unique search enhancements.
- Legislation Online by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, is an excellent site which provides full-text legislation in several subject areas. The site is limited to laws from Eastern and Western European countries only, and the subject matter is limited to laws in areas such as elections, immigration, human rights, independence of the judiciary, policing and prisons.
- Although these sites are very comprehensive and up-to-date in their coverage, if you don't find what you are looking for, do not stop there! There are plenty of other Foreign Law Metapages for you to examine!
Subject Specific Metapages and Regional Sources
After searching the sites above, if you still have not located the legal information you are looking for, there plenty of other strategies you can use for finding what you need. For example, a regional intergovernmental organization may be tracking its members' laws in a particular subject area. A non-governmental organization may have a web project to provide laws of interest to their members. May we suggest some of the following sites as a starting point. Subject Specific Foreign Law Metapages. Regional Sources of Foreign Law.
Here are some final tools that can be extremely useful for tracking down country laws when you have exhausted the methods above.
- Worldwide Governments on the WWW. This site provides a directory of worldwide government Ministry and Agency websites. Excellent places to try are the Ministry of Justice website for legislation, the Courts websites for case law, the National Bank website for business, commercial or finance laws, and the External Affairs website for English language laws in trade or business. See also our compilation of Government Offices and Ministries Metapages for more ideas.
- Regional Search Engines and Directories Metapages are always your last resort. Since it is impossible for the popular search engines to track information from around the world, why not try using a search engine or directory that is popular in the country you are looking for. These sites provide a list of search engines by country that you can then employ in your search. Remember, these search engines can also help you to track down government Ministry webpages that other lists were unable to find or update.
- Your searches may also be assisted by using an online translator. Although the technology is still new, there are some reasonable products available that can help you decipher basic information from foreign language websites.
- Free Translation.com is an excellent website that allows you to enter specialized characters for more accurate results.
- Babel Fish is one of the oldest and most widely known online translators.
- Word2Word.com provides one of the most diverse choices of languages.
- Eurodicotum European Terminology Database (multiple EU languages).
Our Metapage compilation has a few other ideas for finding country information and statistics, as well as a country by country listing of legal information. Remember, if you ever run out of options in your internet searching, there are always plenty of resources in print to back you up. Talk to your librarian - we are always happy to help you with your search!