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Legal skills - International law research

This guide is designed to help you determine the appropriate sources of international law and locate them.

This video was created by the University of Tasmania Library, 2017.

Where can I find International Treaties?

Below are links to the main treaty collections:

United Nations Treaty Collections Online

Includes UN Treaty Series 1946+League of Nations Treaty Series and Status of Multilateral treaties deposited with the Secretary-General series

Where can I find International Judicial Decisions? 

The International Court of Justice is not bound by precedent (see Article 59 of the ICJ Statute). However, its own decisions and the decisions of other courts and arbitral tribunals may be used by the Court as persuasive authority.

 

The main international courts are included below:

International Court of Justice

The ICJ was established in 1945 by the Charter of the United Nations and is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations. Only states may submit legal disputes to the Court, although United Nations organs and other agencies may request advisory opinions on legal issues. The Court’s decisions in contentious cases are binding upon the two state parties involved, but advisory opinions are nonbinding.

The ICJ’s website is comprehensive and generally easy to navigate. On the left side of the homepage is a navigation bar: “The Court” contains procedural and other information about the ICJ, and “Cases” gives you the option of narrowing your search to either contentious cases or advisory proceedings. The cases are listed chronologically, with the most recent decisions (or pending cases) near the top of the page.

Permanent Court of International Justice

The Permanent Court of International Justice (“PCIJ”) was the predecessor of the ICJ and was established in 1922, as provided in the Covenant on the League of Nations. The PCIJ was the first tribunal with general jurisdiction and several of its decisions are still cited by the ICJ in its judgments.  The PCIJ was dissolved in 1946 after the Charter of the United Nations provided for the establishment of the ICJ.

The PCIJ’s decisions and reports are available on the ICJ’s website. On the left side of the homepage is a tab titled “Permanent Court of International Justice.” Once you click this tab, there are instructions on how to find specific cases and reports from the PCIJ. 

European Court of Human Rights

The European Court of Human Rights (“ECHR”) was established in 1959, following the adoption of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms in the Council of Europe in 1953. The ECHR is a permanent court and has jurisdiction over states alleged to have committed violations of rights contained in the Convention. Unlike the ICJ, the ECHR accepts cases brought by individuals as well as states. Even though its rulings are based upon a regional human rights treaty, the decisions of the ECHR are still important persuasive authority in the area of international human rights law. 

The homepage has links to “The Court” which provides background information about the ECHR. There is also a “Case-Law” button that leads you to the ECHR’s “HUDOC” search engine, in which you can input information about the case (title, quotations, respondent state, application number, etc.) in order to find the full text of the case. Documents from both pending and completed cases are available, as well as advisory opinions and resolutions. 

International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia

The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (“ICTY”) was established in 1993 by United Nations Security Council Resolution 827. The ICTY has jurisdiction over individuals alleged to have committed four categories of crimes in the former Yugoslavia during the ethnic conflicts of the 1990s: genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions.

The website’s home page contains information about the ICTY under the heading “ICTY at a glance.” The Statute of the ICTY and other procedural documents are available under the heading “Basic legal documents.” To search for cases, click on “ICTY Cases and Judgments.” You can search for cases either by the case numbers (if you already have a citation for the case you are looking for) or by the name of the accused. Searching by name can make the process easier, especially when looking for the well-known ICTY cases.

International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda

The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (“ICTR”), similar to the ICTY, was established in 1994 by a United Nations Security Council resolution. The ICTR has jurisdiction over individuals alleged to have committed genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in Rwanda and neighboring states during the 1990s.

The website structure is different from that of the ICTY website. The website’s front page provides a choice of viewing the website in English, French or Kinyarwanda. Once you choose a language, you enter the main website. On the left side are various headings: “About the Tribunal” will take you to information about the ICTR and its establishment. The Statute of the ICTR, the Security Council resolution establishing it and other procedural documents are available under the heading “Basic Legal Texts.” To search for cases, click on the heading “Cases,” and then “Status of Cases.” This will lead you to a page where you will see all of the indictments and judgments listed alphabetically  according to the current status of the cases.

Inter-American Court of Human Rights

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights (“IACHR”) was established in 1979 for the purpose of implementing and enforcing the American Convention on Human Rights. The Convention has been ratified by twenty-five North and South American states and is therefore binding upon those states. The IACHR has jurisdiction over human rights violations committed by states-party to the Convention, and cases may be referred to it by either the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (another organ of the Organization of American States dedicated to the protection of human rights) or by other states-party.

The homepage contains headings across the top: “Information” provides background information on the court, and “Jurisprudence” has links to the “Decisions and Judgments” and “Advisory Opinions.” The cases under both sections are listed chronologically, with the most recent cases at the bottom of the page. The “Jurisprudence” heading also allows you to search for cases by respondent country. Notably, the “Jurisprudence” heading also provides the orders that the IACHR issues to states to implement their judgments under “Compliance with Judgment.”

Permanent Court of Arbitration

The Permanent Court of Arbitration (“PCA”) was established in 1899 by the Hague Convention on the Pacific Settlements of International Disputes. The PCA has more than 100 member states, and provides dispute resolution assistance for cases involving states, state-owned entities, inter-governmental organizations and private parties (for example, facilitating arbitrations, hearing facilities at The Hague). The PCA administers investment arbitrations, boundary disputes and disputes involving the Law of the Sea.

The PCA’s website contains a tab at the top labeled “Cases,” which has a partial list of past and pending cases, with accompanying documents. 

Other Specialized Courts/Tribunals

There are numerous international tribunals and courts. A problem that deals with international investment may require extensive research of the decisions of the Iran-US Claims Tribunal  and arbitral decisions under the auspices of the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes. Problems that deal with international trade will require research of the decisions of panels at the World Trade Organization. For problems relating to law of the sea, the decisions of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea will be crucial. The International Criminal Court (“ICC”) deals with individuals for committing genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Other courts and tribunals include: 

United Nations Administrative Tribunal

European Court of Human Rights

European Court of Justice

 

 

International databases

 

BestCase Library  Canadian decisions.
HeinOnline  English Reports and US Reports.
ICLR.3  Incorporated Council of Law Reporting for England & Wales.
JustisOne  International reports.
LexisNexis International
Oxford Reports on International Law   Full text decisions of international courts and international law decisions.
Thomson Reuters Westlaw  US and foreign primary and secondary legal materials.
Westlaw UK 
WorldTradeLaw.net  WTO cases, legal texts, and other documents.
WorldLII  Find case law by country or search across jurisdictions in WorldLII.

Where can I find relevant cases by subject? 

If you are seeking cases in foreign jurisdictions that cover your topic the following citators and digests may be useful to you.

 

Citators are tools that allow you to search for cases on a particular topic. Once you locate a relevant case you can track the history of your case and the treatment of your case by subsequent courts. Citators allow you to determine if your case is still good law and it acts as a research tool allowing you find other cases (and other secondary materials) that referred to your case.

If you have a case name, citators are also an efficient way of:

  • finding the correct citation of a case and parallel citations,
  • finding other cases on the same topic, and
  • finding commentary on your case.

 

Digests provide a topic based approach to locating relevant cases. Digests summarise the main points of the case to help the researcher decide on the relevance of the case to the issues researched. 

 

BriefCase/ViewCase [New Zealand] 
 
Index of more than 140,000 cases sourced from a variety of New Zealand Courts and Tribunals. Provides topic classifications and summaries of cases. Links to Unreported Judgments provided. Access is via Westlaw AU.
Current Law Case Citator [UK]  
The Digest : Annotated British, Commonwealth and Euorpean Cases  
JustCite JustCite is an electronic citator of cases, legislation and journal articles from the UK and EU jurisdictions. It now also provides information from selected common law jurisdictions, and from international courts. It links to reported cases published via ICLR.3.
KeyCite Case law, statutes, regulations, administrative materials, patents and secondary sources. Coverage varies by Country (Australia, Canada, Hong Kong and United States).
LawCite If you are doing legal research, you will likely want to use a citator, which is a tool designed to help you to find instances where a legal document has been cited or otherwise discussed. LawCite includes cases, legal documents and law journal articles with a particular focus on materials from common law countries.
World Court Digest  Summaries of ICJ decisions arranged by subject (1986-2000) available from Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law

 

Need help?

Need help?

 

If you require assistance with legal research please contact the Law Library on: 

  • +61 3 6226 2063

  • Law.Reference@utas.edu.au

or come in during our regular opening hours.

The Law Library is located at the lower end of the Sandy Bay campus in the Law Building.