Private international law

By Hester Swift, Foreign and International Law Librarian, August 2011

Introduction

Private international law is a branch of each jurisdiction's domestic law.  It comes into play when a court hears a claim with a foreign element, for example a case concerning a tort committed in another jurisdiction.  In England and Wales, the terms "private international law" and "conflict of laws" are interchangeable, and the subject encompasses choice of law, the court's jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of foreign judgments.  The scope of private international law is different from country to country, however, and each jurisdiction has its own rules.

Sources of private international law include national legislation; the decisions of national courts; treaties and uniform laws; regional instruments such as EU legislation; and the writings of jurists. 

IALS Library has substantial  collections of materials relating to private international law.  There is a dedicated private international law section at classmark SH, which includes books, law reports, journals and other resources. However, such is the broad scope of the subject that researchers will find relevant materials throughout the Library.

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Legislation

National legislation

The legislation of any jurisdiction may be required for private international law research. 

If you have a citation to a code, for example, the Spanish Código Civil, simply look it up on the IALS Library Catalogue by title.

To find legislation other than codes, search by classmark, following these steps:-

1. Look up the jurisdiction's classification in the IALS World Country Index; Ghana, for example, is GH3

2. ".E" denotes legislation, so the classmark for Ghanaian legislation is GH3.E

3. Search the Catalogue by classmark, then click on Extended Display to list the titles available.  

If you wish to find online sources, are hoping for an English translation, or do not have a specific citation, use one of the following finding tools:

  • Foreign Law Guide: Current Sources of Codes and Basic Legislation in Jurisdictions of the World: a subscription database available via the IALS Electronic Law Library (note access restrictions).  The laws of almost every country are listed by topic, with citations; web sources and available translations are also mentioned. Private international law comes under the heading "Conflict of Laws". As a US product concerning foreign law, this source does not cover the law of the United States - see below for US information.
  • International Encyclopaedia of Laws: Private International Law, edited by Prof. Dr. Bea Verschraegen (The Hague: Kluwer Law International, 2001 - ).  A three-volume looseleaf summarising the private international law of 20 different jurisdictions, including the United States, and citing the relevant legislation. For a few countries, translations of key laws are included. Eventually the work aims to cover 60 jurisdictions. Held at IALS in printed format (also available online, but not at IALS).
  • IALS Library's foreign law research guides:  these cover more than 20 different jurisdictions, from Argentina to the United States.  Based on IALS's collections, they give details of the print publications, databases and websites where each jurisdiction's legislation can be found. Sources of translated legislation, if any, are mentioned.
  • The Globalex foreign law research guides:  New York University's Hauser Global Law School Program provides a set of research guides covering most of the world's jurisdictions, on the Globalex website.  Globalex also has a general Basic Guide to Researching Foreign Law.

European Union legislation

EU legislation plays a major role in the private international law of EU member states.  It can be found in the following sources:

  • The Official Journal of the European Communities / Union (see Library Catalogue)
  • EUR-Lex, a free database provided by the EU
  • Monograph compilations such as Bariatti, S., Cases and materials on EU private international law  (Oxford: Hart, 2011).

There is more information about finding EU legislation in our EU research guide.

Treaties, model laws and other harmonization instruments

Both bilateral and multilateral treaties may be needed for private international law research.  For general guidance on finding treaties, in print and online, see the IALS research guide for public international law.

Several international organizations are specifically concerned with drawing up multilateral private international law treaties, model laws and other harmonization instruments.  The successive series Unification of Law and Uniform Law Review (both in IALS) include instruments drawn up by many of these organizations, from the late 1920s to the twenty-first century. UNIDROIT is currently developing a free web database, UNILAW, covering a similar range of instruments, together with related cases and journal articles.

Individual international bodies working on the harmonization of private law include the Hague Conference on Private International Law, UNIDROIT, the Organization of American States, OHADA and UNCITRAL, as outlined below:

The Hague Conference on Private International Law

Since its first session in 1893, the Hague Conference on Private International Law has drawn up numerous multilateral conventions, covering aspects of family law, commercial law, civil procedure and other areas of law.  All the conventions are all available on the Hague Conference website, with status information (signatures, ratifications, dates of entry into force and so on). Pre-1945 and post-1945 conventions are on different pages of the website. 

The depositary for the Hague Conventions is the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs.                                          Top of page

The authentic versions of the post-war conventions are published in Recueil des conventions / Collection of Conventions (in IALS), a one-volume compilation of the current conventions edited by the Permanent Bureau of the Hague Conference. New editions come out every few years.

The pre-war conventions have been superseded by later instruments.  They can be found in Parry's Consolidated Treaty Series (in IALS; for citations, see FLARE Index to Treaties). The Protocole pour reconnaître à la Cour Permanente de Justice Internationale la compétence d'interpréter les Conventions de La Haye de droit international privé, 27 March 1931, was published in the proceedings of the 1931 session (see below).

The proceedings of the Hague Conferences are published under the title Actes et documents de la...session / Proceedings of the...session (in IALS). They include minutes, proposals, memoranda, draft conventions, working documents, explanatory reports for the conventions and many other types of documentation. For the first ten sessions, they are in French only; for the first eight sessions, there are separate volumes of Actes and Documents

The proceedings relating to the three children's Conventions are available on CD–ROM:  Les conventions relatives aux enfants / The children's conventions (Hague Conference on Private International Law, 1998). In IALS.

International Institute for the Unification of Private Law (UNIDROIT)

UNIDROIT's work is carried out by means of multilateral conventions, model laws, principles and guides.  Most are available free on the UNIDROIT website (see below for further details).  

Conventions and model laws 

UNIDROIT conventions and model laws are available on its website, together with status information for the conventions.  Printed versions can be found in the following two series (both in IALS):         

  • Unification of Law (published 1948-72, but vol. 1 covers UNIDROIT'S work from 1926 to 1948)
  • Uniform Law Review (1973 -  ; in recent years, Unif. L. Rev. has started to refer its readers to the internet for full-text instruments, but it continues to publish status information for conventions, and other complementary data)

Guide to International Master Franchise Arrangements

The Guide is published and sold as a monograph by UNIDROIT; it is not available on the internet, except for Annex 3 to the second edition.  Both editions, 1998 and 2007, are available at IALS. 

Principles of international commercial contracts

There have been three editions: 1994, 2004 and 2010. The full versions consist of articles (the "black letter rules") plus commentary; they are published by UNIDROIT as monographs.  The black letter rules alone are also available, in various forms.  Sources are as follows:

  • 2010 full version (published 2011):  printed monograph in IALS; includes a correspondence table covering the articles of each of the three editions.
  • 2010 black letter rules only: UNIDROIT website (with correspondence table)
  • 2004 full version:  UNIDROIT website and printed monograph (in IALS)
    2004 black letter rules only:  (2004) 9 Unif L Rev ns 124 (in IALS)
  • 1994 full edition: UNIDROIT website (IALS's copy of the printed version is missing.
  • 1994 black letter rules only: Bonell, An International Restatement of Contract Law, 2nd edition (Transnational Publishers, c1997), Appendix (in IALS)

For case law and bibliographic references concerning the Principles, see UNIDROIT's web database, UNILEX.

The preparatory studies for each of the three editions are listed on the UNIDROIT website, with links to the full-text documents for many of them. Those studies not available on the internet can be found in Proceedings and papers (see below).


Principles of transnational civil procedure

The Principles of transnational civil procedure were prepared jointly by the American Law Institute and UNIDROIT. Adopted in 2004, they were published in (2004) 9 Unif L Rev ns 758. There is also a monograph version: Principles of transnational civil procedure : as adopted and promulgated by the American Law Institute at Washington, May 2004 and by UNIDROIT at Rome, Italy, April 2004 (Cambridge University Press, 2006).  Both versions are held at IALS.

Other UNIDROIT documents

UNIDROIT studies, annual reports and other types of publication are published in its Proceedings and papers. This series is available on the internet from 1994 onwards. It is in IALS from 1928 onwards on microfilm, in print, or on CD-ROM (see Library Catalogue).

UNIDROIT has published official commentaries on two of its conventions:

  • Goode, Roy, Official Commentary on the Convention on International Interests in Mobile Equipment and the Luxembourg Protocol on Matters Specific to Railway Rolling Stock (UNIDROIT, 2008, not in IALS)
  • Goode, Roy, Official Commentary on the Convention on International Interests in Mobile Equipment and the Protocol thereto on Matters Specific to Aircraft Equipment. Revised edition (UNIDROIT, 2008, IALS has the 2002 edition).  

See also:

  • Commentary on the UNIDROIT Principles of International Commercial Contracts (PICC), Stefan Vogenauer and Jan Kleinheisterkamp (eds), Oxford University Press, 2009.  In IALS.
  • Prott, Lyndel, Commentary on the Unidroit Convention on stolen and illegally exported cultural objects (Leicester, Institute of Art and Law, 1997). In IALS.


Organization for the Harmonisation of Business Law in Africa (OHADA)

OHADA's Treaty on the harmonisation of business law in Africa and its model laws are available on its website. They are also on Westlaw International. 

For the Treaty and the earlier model laws, see also the printed compilation OHADA Treaty Acts (ACEDA, 2003), which is held at IALS.


Organization of American States (OAS)

Since 1975 the Organization of American States has carried out harmonization work by means of its Inter-American Specialized Conferences on Private International Law, referred to by the Spanish acronym CIDIP.  CIDIP conventions, model laws and other instruments are available on the OAS website

The conventions can be found in the OAS Treaty series / Serie sobre tratados (in IALS 1970-1985) and  the United Nations Treaty Series (in IALS and on the internet); seeFLARE Index to Treaties for citations.  The Conventions from the first two CIDIP conferences are also in The Inter-American system: treaties, conventions and other documents, compiled by the OAS Secretariat for Legal Affairs and published by Oceana (in IALS).

Many CIDIP instruments, including the Model Inter-American Law on Secured Transactions, have been reproduced in International Legal Materials (printed series in IALS; also available via Lexis Library, HeinOnline and Westlaw International).

For further information about OAS documentation, see New York University's research guide.

United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL)

UNCITRAL conventions and model laws are published in its Yearbook, which is held at IALS from vol. 1 (1970) to vol. 34 (2003).  The whole series is on the internet and it is also on HeinOnline, (vol. 1 to pre-current year).

The conventions and model laws are also reproduced on the Texts and Status page of the UNCITRAL website, together with status information for conventions, travaux préparatoires, bibliographies and other information. 

UNCITRAL publishes monograph versions of the model laws and other texts, several of which are held at IALS (see Library Catalogue).

Case law on UNCITRAL instruments is available in the CLOUT database on the UNCITRAL website.

Further information about UNCITRAL documentation is included in this UN research guide.

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Cases


Private international law research may require court decisions from various countries - and from other courts, such as the Court of Justice of the European Union. 

Case books

Leading cases are reproduced in cases and materials books, for example:

  • Bariatti, S., Cases and materials on EU private international law (Hart, 2011)
  • Hartley, T., International commercial litigation: text, cases and materials on private international law (Cambridge University Press, 2009)


  • Symeonides, S., et al, Conflict of laws: American, comparative, international: cases and materials (Thomson/West, c2003)

Law reports and databases

IALS Library has law reports and case databases from a large number of jurisdictions. For printed law reports,  see Library Catalogue and for databases use the Electronic Law Library (click on the i buttons to see which databases cover which jurisdictions).  If you cannot find the case you need in a printed law report or subscription database, try the WorldLII website.

There are a few specialist series and databases:

  • International Litigation Procedure (Thomson/Sweet and Maxwell, 1990 - ; in IALS):  judgments of national courts and the European Court of Justice concerning the procedural issues relating to transnational litigation.
  • Die deutsche Rechtsprechung auf dem Gebiete des internationalen Privatrechts (de Gruyter, 1928- ; in IALS): German private international law cases.
  • CLOUT: free database of cases on UNCITRAL instruments.
  • UNILEX: free database of cases on the UNIDROIT Principles of International Commercial Contracts and the UN Convention on Contracts for the International Sale of Goods (CISG).
  • Uniform Law Review includes summaries of cases relating to uniform law instruments; see also its partial predecessor, Uniform Law Cases (1959-1971).

 

Finding tools

If you do not have a citation, use a research guide to identify indexes and other case-finding tools. Research guides for most jurisdictions are available on the internet:

  • IALS Library's research guides cover more than 20 countries, the European Union and the Council of Europe (for the European Court of Human Rights).

IALS has printed monograph research guides for some jurisdictions. To find them on the Catalogue, do a keyword search for the phrase "legal research" plus the name of the jurisdiction. 

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Encyclopedias

The International Encyclopaedia of Laws: Private International Law, edited by Prof. Dr. Bea Verschraegen (Kluwer Law International, 2001 - ) summarises the private international law of twenty different jurisdictions and eventually aims to cover sixty. For a few countries, translations of selected laws are included.  Some chapters include bibliographies.

The Encyclopaedia is available at IALS in printed format. There is also an online version, but IALS does not subscribe.

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Books

IALS Library has hundreds of books on the private international law of various jurisdictions, including foreign-language works. The Library Catalogue uses the subject heading "conflict of laws" for private international law publications. Most of these books are classified at "SH".

The following titles are a small selection of recent works, together with writings of leading jurists (all held at IALS):

  • Rome Regulations: commentary on the European rules on the conflict of laws. Gralf-Peter Calliess (ed.). Kluwer Law International, c2011.
  • Conflict of laws in international arbitration. Franco Ferrari and Stefan Kröll (ed.s), Sellier, c2011.
  • Hartley, Trevor, International commercial litigation: text, cases and materials on private international law. Cambridge University Press, 2009.
  • Briggs, Adrian, The conflict of laws. Oxford University Press, 2008. A concise introduction to English private international law.   
  • Fawcett, J.J. and Carruthers, J.M., Cheshire, North & Fawcett: private international law. Oxford University Press, 2008. Another book covering English law.
  • Dicey, Morris and Collins on the conflict of laws, Lawrence Collins (ed.), 14th ed., Sweet & Maxwell, 2006.  (Formerly A digest of the law of England with reference to the conflict of laws / Dicey's Conflict of Laws / Dicey and Morris on the conflict of laws.)   IALS has every edition of this leading work (1896 - 2006).
  • Symeonides, Symeon, The American choice-of-law revolution: past, present and future. Martinus Nijhoff, c2006.
  • Restatement of the law, second: Conflict of laws. American Law Institute Publishers, 1971-1996. 7 volumes. (Also available on Westlaw International and Lexis Library.)


  • Story, Joseph, Commentaries on the conflict of laws, foreign and domestic, in regard to contracts, rights, and remedies, and especially in regard to marriages, divorces, wills, successions, and judgments.  8th ed., Little, Brown, 1883.  (IALS also has several other editions in printed form; the first edition is on HeinOnline and various editions have been digitised by Google). Classic US treatise.
  • Savigny, Friedrich Karl von, Private international law. A treatise on the conflict of laws: and the limits of their operation in respect of place and time, T. & T. Clark, 1869. (Also available from Google Books.) Classic treatise.

Journals

IALS has numerous journals covering the field of private international law, including the following series:

  • Journal of private international law
  • Rabels Zeitschrift für ausländisches und internationales Privatrecht  (formerly Zeitschrift für ausländisches und internationales Privatrecht )
  • Revue critique de droit international privé (has had several different titles - see Library Catalogue)
  • Uniform Law Review / Revue de droit uniforme:  Formed by the amalgamation of two earlier series, Unification of Law and Uniform Law Cases; all three titles are held at IALS. There is an index to the Uniform Law Review (1985 - ) on the UNIDROIT website.
  • Yearbook of private international law

Some of these journals are available online as well as in printed format - see Library Catalogue

Note that private international law is also covered by general international law journals and comparative law journals.  To search for relevant articles in a wide range of journals, use online journal indexes and full-text journal databases, as outlined in the IALS guide Finding Journal Articles.

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Databases


IALS subscribes to numerous databases containing private international law materials, a selection of which are listed here.  Readers may access them via the Electronic Law Library (note restrictions).

  • Foreign Law Guide: Current Sources of Codes and Basic Legislation in Jurisdictions of the World - a subscription database listing the laws of almost every country by topic, with citations. Web sources and available translations are also mentioned. Private international law comes under the heading "Conflict of Laws".  Available via the IALS Electronic Law Library (note access restrictions).

 

  • HeinOnline: relevant modules include the United Nations Law Collection, the Law Journal Library and the Foreign and International Law Resources Database.
  • Index to Foreign Legal Periodicals: covers international law, comparative law and the law of non-common law jurisdictions.
  • Index to Legal Periodicals:  mainly covers US and international law.


  • Legal Journals Index:  mainly covers UK, EU and international law.
  • Oxford Scholarship Online: Law - includes about 18 books relating to private international law (see "Sub-discipline index").

See also foreign law databases such as Beck Online (Germany) and LexisNexis JurisClasseur (France), as well as the UK, EU, foreign and international materials on Lexis Library and Westlaw International (latter accessed via Westlaw UK).


 

Websites


The following are a selection of free web resources relevant to private international law research:

  • Conflict of Laws.net:  news and discussion forum with scholarly contributors from around the world (linked to the Journal of Private International Law).
  • CLOUT:  free database of case law concerning UNCITRAL instruments.
  • EISIL - private international law:  annotated directory of web resources for private international law, including treaties. Includes links to full-text documents. Provided by the American Society of International Law (ASIL).


  • European Judicial Network: an EU website providing basic information about civil procedure and related matters. Covers the national provisions of each member state and also gives details of EU law and policy.
  • FLARE Index to Treaties: index to more than 2000 multilateral treaties, with links to the full text on the web, where available.
  • OHADA (Organisation pour l'Harmonisation du Droit des Affaires en Afrique / Organization for the Harmonisation of Business Law in Africa):  provides OHADA uniform acts and other documentation.
  • Organization of American States, private international law page: covers the work of the Inter-American Specialized Conferences on Private International Law (CIDIP); includes the text of conventions and other instruments.
  • UNCITRAL (UN Commission on International Trade Law): includes the organization's conventions, model laws, working documents and so on.
  • UNIDROIT (International Institute for the Unification of Private Law): provides the organization's conventions, model laws, proceedings and other documentation.
  • UNILEX:  a free database of case law on the UNIDROIT Principles of International Commercial Contracts and the UN Convention on Contracts for the International Sale of Goods (CISG). Provided by UNIDROIT.
  • UN Treaty Collection:  includes the entire UN Treaty Series in the form of a searchable database.
  • WorldLII:  a set of free databases providing legislation, cases and other legal documentation from more than 120 jurisdictions; also has links to other law websites.

For other web resources, see the Eagle-i gateway.

 

Research guides

Private international law research guides are available on the web from the American Society of International Law (ASIL) and the University of California, Berkeley.  The ASIL guide covers e-resources only.

A guide on the harmonization of international commercial law is available on New York University's Globalex website.

Foreign law research guides for many different jurisdictions have been made available on the web by Globalex and IALS.

Organization of American States documentation is covered by a New York University research guide.

UNCITRAL documentation is covered by the United Nations Dag Hammarskjöld Library' s UN research guide.

Bibliographies

Szladits, Charles, A bibliography on foreign and comparative law : books and articles in English. Oceana, 1955-1989 (in IALS 1955-1983).  Covers private international law.

Symeon Symeonides publishes annual private international law bibliographies in the American Journal of Comparative Law.


A selective bibliography concerning the Hague Conference is available on the organization's website

Bibliographies are also included in the Uniform Law Review, UNCITRAL's Yearbook and UNIDROIT's UNILEX database.

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