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Foreign and International Legal Information: How to find legal material from non-UK jurisdictions: Sources of International Law

How to find legal material from non-UK jurisdictions

International law

The main sources of public international law are treaties, case law and custom. Travaux préparatoires and model laws are also important in the study and research of international law. You can find sources of international law from a variety of online sources including databases subscribed to by the University as well as publicly accessible websites.

Where you can find international legal information online

Key sources of international law

A treaty is a written international agreement between states (or some international organisations). Treaties may also be termed “conventions”, “agreements”, “charters”, “declarations” or “protocols”. A treaty agreed between two states is “bilateral”. A treaty agreed between more than two states is “multilateral”.

The individual provisions comprising a treaty are usually known as articles and paragraphs. A treaty is only binding on those states who have signed and ratified it and then only once it has come into force.

In some states, such as the UK, a treaty requires implementation by domestic legislation to be binding in domestic law.

Resources containing treaties

The text of treaties and other primary materials are reproduced in textbooks and other secondary sources. For example, the late Sir Ian Brownlie's text, Basic Documents in International Law collects together key treaties and other documents relevant to the study of international law. International materials may also be included in "cases and materials” books or student statute collections on specific areas of law.

International case law is produced by various international courts and tribunals which exist to apply and interpret treaties and other rules of international law. The International Court of Justice decides legal disputes between states and offers advisory opinions to the United Nations and other authorized agencies. However, a system of precedent does not operate in the same way as in Scottish courts.

Other international courts of special jurisdiction exist, for example: the International Criminal Court, the Central American Court of Justice, WTO Dispute Settlement Body Panels, and the European Court of Human Rights.

Resources containing international case law

Customary international law evolves from the practice of states over time. For a custom to be accepted there must be recognition by states that the practice amounts to a binding obligation in international law. Custom may be established in case law or may be codified in treaties.

Travaux préparatoires and conference proceedings are materials preparatory to final treaties. These are not legally binding themselves but may be referred to when interpreting the meaning of a treaty.

Model laws may be drafted by international organizations to provide guidance to states when creating domestic law. Model laws are not binding on states but may be adopted domestically or used as guidance when interpreting national law.

Further help researching international law

Sources of foreign and international legal information in libraries

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