International Legal Research
What is international law?
Public international law:
• Law that governs the relations between or
among nations
– Think UN, treaties
Private international law:
• Concerns disputes between private parties
in which the laws, jurisdiction or court
judgments of more than one jurisdiction or
country are implicated
– Think conflict of laws, UNCITRAL, arbitration
Sources of International Law
Article 38 of the International Court of Justice
statute states:
• 1. The Court, whose function is to decide in
accordance with international law such disputes
as are submitted to it, shall apply:
– a. international conventions, whether general or
particular, establishing rules expressly recognized by the
contesting states;
– b. international custom, as evidence of a general practice
accepted as law;
– c. the general principles of law recognized by civilized
– d. subject to the provisions of Article 59, judicial
decisions and the teachings of the most highly qualified
publicists of the various nations, as subsidiary means for
the determination of rules of law.
International Customary Law
“Consists of rules of law derived from
the constant conduct of states acting
out of the belief that the law required
them to act that way”
• Because there are no international “laws”,
per se, countries instead behave as if there
were laws to require them to behave a
certain way
International Conventions (Treaties)
Treaty research in 5 steps
1. Does a treaty exist on the topic?
2. Find the text of the treaty
3. Who are the parties (bilateral or multilateral) and
what is the treaty’s effective date?
4. Any reservations, understandings, declarations,
or other conditions made by relevant parties?
5. Any subsequent modification to the treaty
(amendments or protocols)?
Example #1
Luxemburg is one of several small
jurisdictions that act as tax havens to
wealthy US citizens. Locate the most
recent agreement between the US and
Luxemburg on prevention of fiscal
evasion with respect to taxes on income
and capital.
• In what official US source can this treaty be
Example #2
Has North Korea ratified the Convention
on the Rights of the Child?
• If so, when did they ratify it?
• Did they have any reservations,
understandings, declarations, or other
International judicial decisions
There is no good index or digest to international
legal jurisprudence
• There is no concept of stare decisis in
international law; therefore courts do not heavily
rely on precedent (although they can consult their
previous decisions under Article 38 of the ICJ
statute on the sources of international law)
• The body of case law is substantially smaller than
domestic jurisdictions and is therefore more easily
• Best place to locate a citation is through a
secondary source
– Law journals, ILM, books, etc
– Max Planck Encyclopedia
Locating International decisions
Avoid Lexis/WL—almost all decisions of
int’l bodies and related procedural
documents are available FREE on the
court/tribunal’s website
 The International Court of Justice’s
website has full-text PDFs of all
judgments and procedural documents—
this link lists all cases brought before
the ICJ in chronological order:
Retrieve relevant case from the ICJ website
If you have a judgment
year, change the list to
reflect the date of
Be sure you know whether
you are looking for a
contentious case or an
advisory proceeding
Locate relevant
case—in this
example, I found
it by judgment
date. You could
always do a
CTRL+F for the
country involved
as well
Click on whichever type of document you are trying to find—i.e.,
in our example, we are looking for page 37 of the Judgment, so
we would click on “Judgments” and then select the first PDF
This is an exact copy of what was printed in the official reporter,
with the same pagination. It can (and, in my opinion, should) be
considered an authentic full-text source.
European Union Information
EU Legislation
• most direct form of EU law - as soon as they are
passed, they have binding legal force throughout
every Member State, on a par with national laws.
National governments do not have to take action
themselves to implement EU regulations.
• lay down certain end results that must be
achieved in every Member State. National
authorities have to adapt their laws to meet these
goals, but are free to decide how to do so.
Directives may concern one or more Member
States, or all of them.
• EU laws relating to specific cases. They can come
from the EU Council (sometimes jointly with the
European Parliament) or the Commission.
Recommendations/Opinions (no binding force)
How to Find EU Legislation
Current/enacted legislation:
• Official Journal (on Eur-Lex)
• Eur-Lex:
• Westlaw (EU-LEG)
Proposed legislation:
• Pre-Lex
• Legislative Observatory
Official Journal
The OJ has been published since 1967 as two
main series: L (Legislation) and C
(Communication = Information and Notices).
Both series are published almost daily and in
the 23 official languages.
Some items are listed on the index in bold and
others are not. The latter are of less importance
and usually concern agricultural matters.
The OJ is arranged in two sequences which are
described as “Acts whose publication is
obligatory” (mainly Regulations and Directives)
and “Acts whose publication is not obligatory”
(mainly Decisions).
Example #3
Locate the authentic full text version of
this cite: 1998 O.J. (C 402) 24
• What was the date that this document was
Court of Justice of the European Union
Three main competencies:
• reviews the legality of the acts of the
institutions of the European Union,
• ensures that the Member States comply with
obligations under the Treaties, and
• interprets European Union law at the request
of the national courts and tribunals
Consists of three courts:
• the Court of Justice
• the General Court (formerly known as the
Court of First Instance, created in 1988)
• the Civil Service Tribunal (created in 2004).
Where to find EU cases & decisions
European Court Reports (E.C.R.) [official]
• Where cases relate to the same issue, they may be
joined so that several case numbers will be attached
to a single ECR citation. Since 1990 the Reports
have been split into two parts in each issue. Part I
contains the ECJ cases and Part II contains the
CFI/GC cases.
• Print only: KJE924.5 .R47
Common Market Law Reports
• Print only: KJE923.7 .C66
Example #5
“Would you please send me the ECJ
judgment in Kanal 5 (2008). Thanks.”
• When looking for a case, try starting with
Curia, the European Courts’ official
website. You can also search case law
using Eur-Lex
Is there an official version available?
• Eur-Lex provides ECR citations, but there
is no electronic version of the ECR version
as of yet
Curia’s simple search box on the front page makes it easy to
locate cases using basic data—in this instance, we know the
name of the party (Kanal 5—but only input “Kanal” incase the
decision spells out the number), the court (Court of Justice),
and the date (2008, although with the distinctive party name
we probably don’t even need the date)
Be sure you are aware of which result is the
one that you want—for example, the OJ cite
“looks” official but is only a summary of the
judgement, not the actual full text. Also, be
aware of the difference between the judgment
and the Advocate Generals’ Opinion (which
preceeds the actual judgment)
Unofficial (but
reliable) full text of
the judgement
Now that you have
the case number
(C-52/07) you can
easily retrieve the
case through EurLex; it will not give
you the official
version, but will
give you the cite to
the official reporter
This is the official reporter
citation---2008 ECR I-9275
United Nations Information
UN Documents
How to locate UN documents
If you already have a citation (e.g.
A/63/950), use the “Search by symbol”
feature of the UN Documentation system:
If you do not know the document symbol,
scroll down on this page and choose the
body and type of document which you are
looking for (i.e., General Assembly –
Resolutions) and you will be taken to the
appropriate page
Locating documents on the UN site
Locating General Assembly resolutions
From the main “Documents” page, scroll
down under “General Assembly” and
select “Resolutions”
Locating General Assembly resolutions
Then select the GA session the
document was issued in
Voting records
are also linked
Since resolutions are
listed in
chronological order,
use CTRL+F to find
your keyword on the

International Legal Research