About the author
This guide was created by Hester Swift, Foreign & International Law Librarian at the IALS Library.
Click here for Hester's full profile and contact details.
Hester Swift, May 2017
Reference Desk hours:
Tel (0)20 7862 5790
Related IALS Guides
We also recommend the following online research guides for foreign jurisdictions.
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 in the second floor reading room (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.
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 Catalogue by title.
To find legislation other than codes, search by classmark: GH3.E for legislation from Ghana, GK2.E for Indian legislation (GH3 = Ghana, GK2 = India, then '.E' is added to denote legislation). You can look up the classmark for each jurisdiction in our guide, Classmarks and the Location of Resources in the Library. Once you have run the classmark search, click on 'Extended Display' to list the publications available.
To track down online sources and English translations and for general research guidance, use one of the following 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. 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" in the Foreign Law Guide.
- International Encyclopaedia of Laws: Private International Law, edited by Prof. Dr. Bea Verschraegen (Kluwer Law International, 2001 - ). A three-volume looseleaf summarising the private international law of numerous jurisdictions and citing the relevant legislation; for a few countries, translations of key laws are included. Held at IALS in printed format (also available online, but at IALS only in printed format).
- IALS Library's foreign law research guides: these cover about thirty different jurisdictions, from Argentina to the United States. Based on our 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. Key instruments are available via the European Commission's Justice webpages. See also EUR-Lex, a free database provided by the EU, and Bariatti, Cases and materials on EU private international law (Hart, 2011).
There is more information about finding EU legislation in our EU research guide.
Treaties and model laws
Both bilateral and multilateral treaties may be needed for private international law research. For general guidance on researching treaties, 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. They include the Hague Conference on Private International Law, UNIDROIT, the Organization of American States, OHADA and UNCITRAL, as outlined below.
Uniform Law Review and its predecessor, Unification of Law, are key publications for researching private international law treaties, model laws and other instruments. They publish commentary as well as harmonization instruments drawn up by the Hague Conference, UNIDROIT and similar bodies. Uniform Law Review and its other predecessor, Uniform Law Cases, also include summaries of cases concerning international uniform law instruments.
- Unification of Law (UNIDROIT,1948-1972): held at IALS; volume 1 covers UNIDROIT's work from 1926 to 1948; merged with Uniform Law Cases to form Uniform Law Review.
- Uniform Law Cases (UNIDROIT / Oceana, 1959-1971): held at IALS; merged with Unification of Law to form Uniform Law Review.
- Uniform Law Review (UNIDROIT / OUP, 1973 - ): held at IALS. Electronic version on HeinOnline, except the two most recent years; also available on the Oxford Academic online platform.
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 family law, commercial law, civil procedure and other areas. In 2015, it also adopted the non-binding Principles on Choice of Law in International Commercial Contracts.
All the conventions and the Principles on Choice of Law are on the Hague Conference website, in English or French; status information is given for the conventions. The pre-1945 Hague conventions are available under 'The "old" conventions', but in French only.
The official source of the post-war Hague conventions is Collection of Conventions (Recueil des Conventions), a one-volume printed compilation edited by the Permanent Bureau of the Hague Conference; IALS has current and previous editions. The pre-war conventions are in Parry's Consolidated Treaty Series, British and Foreign State Papers (both held at IALS) and other series - see FLARE Index to Treaties for citations.
The Protocol Recognizing the Competence of the Permanent Court of International Justice to Interpret the Hague Conventions on Private International Law (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, is in the League of Nations Treaty Series (167 LNTS 341).
The 2015 Principles on Choice of Law were published by the Hague Conference as a monograph, as well as on its website; they are also in the Uniform Law Review: (2015) 20 Unif. L. Rev. 362.
The depositary for the Hague Conventions is the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Its website makes available all the notifications it has received concerning these conventions, in English and French.
The proceedings of the Hague Conferences are published under the title Proceedings of the...session (Actes et documents de la...session), which is held at IALS. They are not available on the Hague Conference website, but the volumes are listed there, with details of how they may be purchased. 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. As well as the entire print series, IALS has a CD-ROM version of the proceedings relating to the three children's conventions: Les conventions relatives aux enfants / The children's conventions (Hague Conference on Private International Law, 1998).
International Institute for the Unification of Private Law (UNIDROIT)
UNIDROIT produces several different kinds of harmonisation instrument: multilateral conventions, model laws, principles and guides:
- Conventions and model laws: on UNIDROIT website, with status information for the conventions, under the heading 'Instruments'. Printed versions can be found in the Uniform Law Review and its predecessors.
- Guides and principles: on UNIDROIT website under 'Instruments'; published as print monographs (many of which are held at IALS); also published in the Uniform Law Review.
- Preparatory studies: recent preparatory studies for UNIDROIT instruments are available on the website under 'Work in Progress / Studies'; older studies are listed, but not provided in full. Studies are also published in UNIDROIT's Proceedings and Papers (Actes et documents), which is held at IALS from 1928 to 2009 (partly on microfilm) and available on the internet from 1994 onwards.
- Reports and other documents: see website under 'Meetings'. Reports and other material also appear in UNIDROIT's Proceedings and Papers (in IALS - see above).
- Commentaries on UNIDROIT instruments: UNIDROIT has published official commentaries on some of its conventions, and other commentaries are also available. Examples include the following:-
- 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).
- Kanda, Hideki, et al, Official Commentary on the UNIDROIT Convention on Substantive Rules for Intermediated Securities (Oxford University Press, 2012, held at IALS)
- Vogenauer and Kleinheisterkamp (ed.s), Commentary on the UNIDROIT Principles of International Commercial Contracts (OUP, 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)
- Cases concerning UNIDROIT instruments: see Uniform Law Cases and its successor, Uniform Law Review. Cases concerning the UNIDROIT Principles of International Commerical Contracts and the UN Convention on Contracts for the International Sale of Goods (CISG) are also available on UNILEX, a free database of case law and bibliographic references.
Organization for the Harmonisation of Business Law in Africa (OHADA)
This largely francophone organization was established in 1993. Its founding text is the Treaty on the Harmonisation of Business Law in Africa ('OHADA Treaty'), signed on 17 October 1993 in Port-Louis, Mauritius (revised by a subsequent treaty adopted in Quebec, Canada, on 17 October 2008). OHADA produces uniform laws for its member states, such as the Uniform Act relating to General Commercial Law and the Uniform Act on Arbitration.
- OHADA Treaty: originally published in OHADA's Journal Officiel, issue 4 (1 November 1997), in French - see OHADA.org. An official English translation of the Treaty and its 2008 amending treaty appeared in a special issue of the Journal Officiel on 24 November 2016 (also available on OHADA.org). There is another English version of the original treaty, as amended, on the portal OHADA.com (this site is not OHADA's own website, but a site provided by the Paris-based Association pour l’unification du Droit en Afrique, or UNIDA).
OHADA uniform acts are published in French in the Journal Officiel, which is available on OHADA.org (issue one, October 1997, onwards) and English translations of the uniform acts appeared in the November 2016 special issue; there are also English versions on Westlaw International Materials, in the International Arbitration collection (Westlaw International Materials is accessed via Westlaw UK; authorised users may access Westlaw UK from the IALS Electronic Law Library).
The Uniform Law Review briefly notes the adoption of several of the OHADA uniform acts in its 'Recently adopted international instruments' section, but publishes very few of them in full. One exception is the OHADA Uniform Act on Contracts for the International Carriage of Goods by Road, which appeared in (2003) 8 Unif. L. Rev. 708, in French. (There are, however, a lot of articles commenting on the work of OHADA in the Uniform Law Review.)
Draft OHADA uniform acts: Information about draft uniform acts is available on OHADA.org. The text of the Preliminary Draft OHADA Uniform Act on Contract Law, its Explanatory Notes, background information and commentary can be found on the UNIDROIT website; this preliminary draft was also published in (2008) 13 Uniform Law Review 593.
Compilations of OHADA official texts: the uniform laws, the Treaty and other official texts are available in several compilations, including the following:
- OHADA Journal Officiel, special issue, 24 November 2016: has English translations of the 1993 OHADA Treaty, its 2008 amending treaty, eight uniform laws and the Arbitration Rules of the Commons Court of Justice and Arbitration; the special issue is available on the OHADA website.
- OHADA Treaty Acts (ACEDA, 2003), held at IALS.
- Répertoire quinquennal OHADA, compiled by Joseph Issa-Sayegh, published by UNIDA; covers the period from 2000 onwards; not in 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, with status information for the conventions.
The conventions can also be found in the OAS Treaty series (Serie sobre tratados; in IALS 1970-1985) and the United Nations Treaty Series (in IALS to 2002; whole series on UN website). 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 1983 (held at 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 on Lexis®Library, HeinOnline and Westlaw International - see IALS Electronic Law Library).
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. This series 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, up to the 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 a brief research guide on UNCITRAL Library's website.
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.
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, 2nd ed. (Cambridge University Press, 2015)
- Symeonides, S., et al, Conflict of laws: American, comparative, international: cases and materials, 2nd ed. (Thomson/West, c2003)
Law reports and case databases
There are a few specialist sources for private international law case research:
- 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). IALS has both titles in print and the Uniform Law Review is also available on HeinOnline.
- Die deutsche Rechtsprechung auf dem Gebiete des internationalen Privatrechts (de Gruyter, 1928- ; in IALS): this series publishes German private international law cases.
- International Litigation Procedure (Sweet and Maxwell, 1990 - ; in IALS up to April 2006 only): judgments of national courts and the European Court of Justice concerning procedural issues relating to transnational litigation.
Cases relevant to private international law research also appear in ordinary law reports and general databases. IALS Library has law reports and databases for a large number of different jurisdictions: see Library Catalogue and Electronic Law Library. The free WorldLII website also covers many different jurisdictions, some more extensively than others.
If you do not have a citation, use a research guide to help you find the cases you need. Research guides for most jurisdictions are available on the internet:
- IALS Library's research guides cover the law of about thirty different jurisdictions, as well as the European Union.
- The Globalex website (New York University) has a very large collection of foreign law research guides, plus Mary Rumsey's Basic Guide to Researching Foreign Law.
- See also IALS Library's guide, Finding Cases.
IALS holds printed research guides for some jurisdictions.To find them on the Catalogue, try a keyword search for the phrase "legal research" plus the name of the jurisdiction in which you are interested, for example: "legal research" mexico.
The International Encyclopaedia of Laws: Private International Law, edited by Prof. Dr. Bea Verschraegen (Kluwer Law International, 2001 - ) summarises the private international law of more than twenty different jurisdictions in five looseleaf volumes; it aims eventually to cover sixty jurisdictions. For a few countries, translations of selected laws are included in the Encylopaedia, and some chapters include bibliographies.
The Encyclopaedia is held at IALS; there is an online version, but IALS does not subscribe to this.
Kluwer also publishes single-jurisdiction monographs based on the Encyclopaedia. IALS Library holds many of these titles, for example, Private International Law in Argentina, Private International Law in Israel.
IALS Library has hundreds of books on the private international law of various jurisdictions. The Catalogue uses the subject heading 'conflict of laws' for these books, and most of them have 'SH' classmarks. The titles below are a small selection from IALS Library's collection.
- Svantesson, Dan Jerker B., Private International Law and the Internet. 3rd ed., Kluwer Law International, 2016.
Gralf-Peter Calliess (ed.) Rome Regulations: Commentary. 2nd ed. Kluwer Law International, 2015.
Hartley, Trevor, International Commercial Litigation: Text, Cases and Materials on Private International Law. 2nd ed. Cambridge University Press, 2015.
Briggs, Adrian, Private International Law in English Courts. Oxford University Press, 2014.
Symeonides, Symeon, Codifying Choice of Law around the World : an International Comparative Analysis. Oxford University Press, 2014.
- Muir Watt, Horatia, and Fernandez Arroyo, Diego P. (ed.s), Private International Law and Global Governance. Oxford University Press, 2014.
- Oppong, Richard Frimpong, Private International Law in Commonwealth Africa. Cambridge University Press, 2013.
- Adrian Briggs, Lawrence Collins, et al, Dicey, Morris and Collins on the Conflict of Laws, Lawrence Collins (ed.), 15th ed., Sweet & Maxwell, 2012 (plus updating supplements). IALS has every edition of this leading work on English private international law, from 1896 onwards (previous titles: 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).
Fawcett, J.J. and Carruthers, J.M., Cheshire, North & Fawcett: Private International Law. 14th ed. Oxford University Press, 2008.
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 (seven volumes). This title is also on Westlaw International (via Westlaw UK) and Lexis®Library - see IALS Electronic Law 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. The first edition (1834) and three other editions are available on HeinOnline.
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 on HeinOnline.
IALS has numerous journals covering the field of private international law, including the following titles:
American Journal of Comparative Law, American Society of Comparative Law / Oxford University Press, 1952 - . Also on HeinOnline.
- International and Comparative Law Quarterly, British Institute of International and Comparative Law / Cambridge University Press, 1952 - . Also available via Cambridge Core and several other online services - see links on Catalogue record.
- Journal of Private International Law, Hart Publishing, 2005 - . Also available online via Taylor and Francis and EBSCO - see Catalogue.
- Rabels Zeitschrift für ausländisches und internationales Privatrecht (formerly Zeitschrift für ausländisches und internationales Privatrecht), de Gruyter / Mohr Siebeck, 1927 -
- Revue critique de droit international privé (title varies - see Catalogue), Sirey / Dalloz, 1947 -
- Uniform Law Review (French title Revue de droit uniforme). International Institute for the Unification of Private Law / Oxford University Press, 1973 - . Formed by the amalgamation of Unification of Law and Uniform Law Cases; all three titles are held at IALS. Available on HeinOnline, except for the two most recent years; also online via the Oxford Academic platform
- Yearbook of Private International Law, Kluwer Law International, 1999 -
To do a wide-ranging literature search, covering a lot of different journals, use online journal indexes and full-text journal databases, as outlined in the IALS guide Finding Journals and Journal Articles at IALS.
IALS subscribes to many databases which are relevant for private international law research. all of which are accessed via the Electronic Law Library (authorised users only). A selection of relevant databases are listed below:
- Foreign Law Guide: Current Sources of Codes and Basic Legislation in Jurisdictions of the World (published by Brill): an online directory of the laws of almost every country, by topic. Private international law comes under the heading 'Conflict of Laws'. Citations, internet sources and details of available translations are given.
- HeinOnline: relevant modules include the United Nations Law Collection, the Law Journal Library, the Foreign and International Law Resources Database and Index to Foreign Legal Periodicals.
- Index to Foreign Legal Periodicals (now part of HeinOnline): despite its name, this database covers international law and comparative law as well as foreign law.
- Index to Legal Periodicals: mainly covers journals published in the US, including many which focus on international law.
- Westlaw UK, Journals section: combined index and full-text database covering about 800 different journals, mainly published in the UK, including many international law titles.
- Oxford Scholarship Online: Law - includes numerous books on private international law
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).
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 e-justice portal: an EU website providing information about civil procedure, mediation, succession, wills, victims of crime, defendants in criminal proceedings 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.
- Hague Conference on Private International Law: includes the organisation's conventions, explanatory reports and other documentation.
- OHADA.com: portal provided by UNIDA, the Association pour l'Unification du Droit en Afrique; includes the OHADA Treaty, news about OHADA's work, background information and more; some content is for members only.
- OHADA.org: OHADA's own website, providing the OHADA Journal Officiel, the OHADA Treaty, uniform acts, cases, news, background information, et cetera.
- 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 OAS conventions and other instruments.
- UNCITRAL (UN Commission on International Trade Law): includes the Commission'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 concerning 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: free website containing the entire UN Treaty Series and League of Nations Treaty Series.
- 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, under 'Private international law'.
The American Society of International Law's Electronic Resource Guide includes a chapter on e-resources for private international law.
A Guide on the Harmonization of International Commercial Law, by Duncan Alford and Matthew Novak, is available on New York University's Globalex website.
Symeon Symeonides publishes an annual private international law bibliography in the American Journal of Comparative Law. IALS holds this journal and it is also on HeinOnline (via IALS Electronic Law Library).
A selective bibliography concerning the Hague Conference is available on the organizations's website.
See also: Szladits, Charles, A Bibliography on Foreign and Comparative Law: Books and Articles in English. Oceana, 1955-1989 (in IALS 1955-1983).