A basic introduction to international legal research in the Peace Palace Library. Your road map for approaching an international legal research problem. Step 4.
Article 38(1)(d) of the Statute of the International Court of Justice states that the Court shall apply 'judicial decisions, as subsidiary means for the determination of rules of law'. Due to the increasing number of international courts and specialized quasi-judicial bodies, legal researchers are thus confronted with substantial challenges in investigating this particular source of law.
There are no overarching rules and procedures that govern the relationship among international courts. While the International Court of Justice is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations, there is no international supreme court. And, due in part to the horizontal development of international law, a decentralised variety of courts exists: courts of general jurisdiction, special courts, regional, and ad hoc courts and tribunals. This decentralisation and the autonomous (independent) nature of these courts impacts not only the legal research process but has also some influence on the types of finding aids and tools available to the researcher.
The decisions of international courts and tribunals can usually be found on their official websites or in a separate database. Much is available for free but in some instances the subscription databases are useful for more advanced full-text searching. Digests, books, encyclopedias, journal articles may also be productive starting points. Worth mentioning is the International Legal Materials which reproduces, in English, the full text of some judicial decisions. Our Research Guides may suggest the best research strategy in finding the right sources.
You might consider our Library Instruction on how to conduct legal research in the Library at all levels.
- Deplano, R. and N. Tsagourias (eds), Research Methods in International Law: a Handbook, Cheltenham; Northhampton, 2021.
- Guide to International Legal Research, Fifth Edition, Newark, LexisNexis Matthew Bender, 2003.
- Hoffman, M.B. and R.C. Berring Jr., International Legal Research in a Nutshell, Second Edition, St. Paul, West Academic Publishing, 2017.
- Kuehl, H.F. and M.A. O'Brien, International Legal Research in a Global Community, Durham, Carolina Academic Press, 2018.
- Lomio, J.P., H. Spang-Hansen and G.D. Wilson, Legal Research Methods in a Modern World: A Coursebook, Third Edition, Copenhagen, DJØF Publishing, 2011.
- Winer, A.S., M.A.E. Archer, and L. Louis-Jacques, International Law Legal Research, Durham, Carolina Academic Press, 2013.