Thursday, March 12, 2015

Can I Have That in English Please?



One request that we get here at the Reference Desk is “how do I find the law from a certain country, in English?” Many times the eventual answer will be that the law is not available in English, but sometimes it is. This post is going to review some sources to be used for answering that question. 

The major go-to source for this kind of inquiry is unquestionably Reynolds and Flores Foreign Law Guide. This resource was taken over from long-time editors Thomas Reynolds and Arturo Flores in 2012 with its purchase by Brill/MartinusNijhoff. With that change came a new platform and a new General Editor, Marci Hoffman, who is also the Associate Director of the Boalt Hall Law Library. The initial goal of the Foreign Law Guide, which has since been expanded, was to provide sources of English translations for foreign law. Often the source will be an older translation and perhaps not useful for a more modern primary law, but this is a typical obstacle in finding English translations. To use this source for the purpose of discovering whether an English translations exists, find the country in which you are interested, find the type of law needed (official gazette, compilations or official codifications, session laws, codes, court reports), click into that source and start reading the description. If there is an English translation available it will be described.

What if you don’t have access to the Foreign Law Guide, which is only available by subscription?  Consider the Basic Guide to Researching Foreign Law by Marr Rumsey, the Foreign, Comparative & International Law Librarian at the University of Minnesota. Mary describes the purpose of this particular guide as describing “basic strategies for finding the laws of countries other than the U.S, primarily in English.” The focus of this Guide is on statutory codes and laws rather than cases. However, Ms. Rumsey does include secondary sources written in English describing other country’s laws. But as I alluded to above, the search for English translations is often unsuccessful–Ms. Rumsey includes the following warning on her guide: “Very few foreign laws, and even fewer cases, are translated into English.” So, consider the strategy of dampening your patron’s expectations right from the start so that if you are able to turn up an English translation, the victory will be even sweeter.

I also like a guide by Mirela Roznovschi, Finding Foreign (Non-U.S.) Law … in English, If Possible. This guide contains general advice on starting a foreign law research project including that it is important to know what kind of legal system your country of interest has – civil, common law, mixed, customary, Islamic law –so that you don’t waste time looking for case law reporters in a civil law country. One free online source to use to make this preliminary determination is JuriGlobe, which has a page that can help you answer that question. 

Good luck with this task. And although you may not come up with the result requested, you will definitely learn a lot along the way.

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