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Foreign Law by Jurisdiction: Translation Help

This guide lists essential print and online sources for researching foreign law. NOTE: First 4 tabs list important general sources that might not be repeated in the dropdown tabs.

Thinking About Translations

Set Expectations: Many sources will NOT be translated into English, unless English is an official language of the country you are researching. For international organizations, most make an effort to have documents available in the official languages of each member state, but that is not always feasible. As a general matter, primary sources are more likely than secondary sources to be translated. When you do find translations, they may be described as authoritative, authentic, official, or unofficial -  authoritative would be considered the most desirable and unofficial the least desirable. 

A big part of this is understanding the legal system - You will often not find case reporters for civil law countries as they generally do not follow stare decisis. For cases in civil law systems, if you can find a case, it will typically be published in a legal journal, international journal, or maybe in a specialty subscription database. 


Narrow your Research Question: At the very beginning, narrow your research question. What country’s law do you need? Are you looking for a case, code, statute, administrative rule or decision, treaty, etc.? What is the specific subject area at issue? Do you want the law in full-text or abstract? How recent is the document? Must you have the latest amendments? What languages can you read?


A Sometimes Useful Database: A popular subscription database the covers many countries and includes machine translation is vLex Justis. A nice option in vLex is that it can also translate search terms when running an advanced search. To download or print anything on this source, you will need to make an individual account first. (Always access using the law library link before logging into your individual accounts.) Machine translations, like those offered by vLex and Google translate are generally unreliable though they can help you identify the subject matter. 


For a much more in-depth look at translations and research steps, see chapter 2 on translations in Marci Hoffman & Mary Rumsey, International and Foreign Legal Research: A Coursebook (2d ed. 2012), available in the library here


For legislation, Google the name of the law in English; the most likely results will be from government websites in English or unofficial translations from law firms (most likely with legislation related to commerce) or from a variety of non-profits (most likely with social justice topics).

There are some free websites from international organizations by topic that provide national legislation; they often have English summaries if not the whole document. Some of the most popular are:

You can also find other guides that provide information on translations - for example:

  • Review the Foreign Law Guide or GlobaLex entry for the country to see if there are any government-produced or specialty resources for translations; then check the library website to see if we have it if it's not freely available online. For example, you would go to an entry for China, see that it says a database called China Law Info provides English translations of Chinese documents; then you would check the Law Library's database list and see that we do subscribe. (Select "English" in the top right-hand corner to access the English version.)
  • Guide from The Law Library of Congress, Translation of National Legislation into English (March 2012),


Tips for finding translations of cases: 

  • The higher the court, the more likely a case will be translated by the issuing governmental body, but even these translations are rarely official. For example, the French Cour de cassation (supreme court for civil issues) offers some selected translations, but it states clearly on their website that the French version is the only official one.
  • Check for it on Google using the English name of the case, case number, and/or court and review websites from NGOs, civil society groups, government websites.
  • Check the government website for English options - foreign websites are not often easily found through Google other than by the main title of the court.
  • Review the Foreign Law Guide or GlobaLex entry for the country to see if there are any specialty resources for translations; then check the library website to see if we have it. 

By Topic

Other databases that might provide translations by topic:

  • A database called Oxford Reports on International Law: International Law in Domestic Courts (ILDC) collects domestic court cases on international law topics (human rights including labor, sources of int'l law, criminal law, etc.). Each case should always have some analysis and headnotes in English plus the original decision in the vernacular. Many cases also include partial to full English translations. It currently has around 70 jurisdictions with coverage generally beginning around 2000 (more historical content is being added). You may see cases cited to this database if they have an ILDC # in the citation.
  • If it's related to international commercial arbitration - check Kluwer Arbitration. This has the biggest collection of books that reproduce commercial arbitral decisions.
  • If it's on a labor topic, it could be in International Labour Law Reports (highest courts on domestic labor issues) or it could be in the journal International Labor Rights Case Law (labor rights since 2015).
  • If it’s about international law, human rights, etc., it could be in publication called a yearbook - search within HeinOnline for the case number or party names as that database has the largest collection of these. Some yearbooks have straightforward translations, while others just summarize the case. 
  • If it's about constitutional law, see the free database CODICES.


Consider secondary sources: If you do not know where to start, and you do not already have a citation to the foreign law, then start your research with secondary sources: commentaries, treatises, legal encyclopedias, articles. These sources may provide a specific citation to a law (name, date, etc.) so that you can search the library catalog. Also, a citation is essential if you have to request a copy from another library through interlibrary loan. Secondary sources may also provide a summary of the law (which is sometimes better than nothing).


See also the pages in this guide on Multi-jurisdictional Sources and Subject-specific Sources.

Translation Tools

If you intend to look for a lot of translations or need a more sophisticated translation, consider evaluating these various sources to select the best tool for your project. There are always new products on the market and changes in technology. (For example, many are now using ChatGPT to help with translations.) Here are a couple of sources that may help you choose, and you can always consult with a law librarian. But remember, even with advances in technology, a machine translation is still not 100% accurate and should be used with caution. 

DeepL Translator Review: Is It Better Than Google Translate?, Translate Press (Oct. 10, 2023).

Google Translate vs. ChatGPT: Which One Is the Best Language Translator?, PC Mag (June 8, 2023) (also evaluates Bing AI and Google Bard, Google's AI chat tool). 

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