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Switzerland: IALS Library Guides

An introduction to legal research in the jurisdiction of Switzerland

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Last updated:

Katherine Read, December 2017

About the author KR

This guide was created by Katherine Read, Principal Library Assistant at the IALS Library.


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We also recommend the following online research guides for foreign jurisdictions.


Switzerland became a federal state in 1848. It is a confederation of 26 cantons and half-cantons and is the second oldest confederation after the United States of America. (See Bovey, G.M. (update by Molina, M. ) The Swiss Legal System and research). Switzerland has a romano-germanic legal system in which precedence is given to enacted or written law. There is a set order of priority in which the Federal Constitution is the most important and is followed by codes, other federal statutes and administrative regulations. The law is divided into public and private law. Public law is concerned with the organization of the State and other public bodies. It covers constitutional/administrative law, tax law, criminal law and public international law. Private law covers law of persons, family law, inheritance and property law. (See Dessemontet & Ansay. Introduction to Swiss Law. 2004).

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World Constitutions Illustrated. started in 2010.  This is a contemporary and historical collection of documents, which is available as part of the IALS subscription to HeinOnline. It is available to all users on site at IALS. Offsite access is limited to staff and students of IALS, SAS and University of London. It includes consolidated and original texts of the Constitution for different periods in time. It also provides full text links to a range of historical commentaries and articles about the Swiss Constitution, selected by the editors.

The website of the Swiss Confederation provides full text access to a non official version of the constitution in a selection of other languages. These currently include Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic, Japanese and Nepali.

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Primary legislation

IALS Library subscribed to the series Recueil Systématique du Droit Fédéral (until 2006) and to Amtliche Sammlung des Bundesrechts (until 2009). Both had accompanying index volumes to allow the user to browse by subject area. These are still available on the open shelves.

A more current source is the web site of the Swiss Confederation. The web site can be viewed and searched in French, German, Italian, English and Romansh. It should be noted however that the English translation of texts is not an official version because English is not an official language of Switzerland.


IALS holds a wide selection of texts which provide text and/or commentary on different sections of the Swiss penal and civil codes. These are mainly in German or French but the library holds a small selection of fairly recent publications in English.

Scyboz, G. et al. Code Civil Suisse et Code des Obligations. Annotés. Helbing Lichtenhahn 2008

Williams, I. (trans). The Swiss Civil Code (English translation) 1976

(with update supplementary volume, 2000)

Gehri, M. & Walther, F. Swiss laws on civil procedure (in English) Orell Füssli Verlag AG 2010

Killias, M. et al. Précis de Droit Pénal Général. 3d. Stämpfli Editions SA Berne 2008

Swiss Code of Obligations. Volume 1, Contract Law. (Articles 1-551) English translation. Swiss-American Chamber of Commerce 2005 revised ed.

Swiss Code of Obligations II. Company Law (Articles 552-964). English translation of the Official Text Swiss-American Chamber of Commerce. 2010 updated edition.

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Law reports

IALS holds Entscheidungen des Schweizerischen Bundesgerichts (main law reports series of the Swiss Federal Court) in printed format since Vol. 1 (1875). It is also known by its French title Arrêts du Tribunal Fédéral Suisse. The texts of the published reports are available in German, French and also Italian, the other official language of Switzerland.

IALS also holds an older series Revue der Gerichtspraxis im Gebiete des Bundescivilrechts (Revue de la Jurisprudence en Matière de Droit Civil Fédéral) Vol. 1 (1883) - Vol. 20 (1902) in the closed basement.

Electronic resource: The website of the Swiss Federal/Constitutional Court gives access to full text decisions of the court from 1954- (BGE Leitentscheide) Earlier decisions (1875-) are available on the University of Bern site and a link is provided. From 2000 a more comprehensive selection of reports is available to search. The search can be restricted by date of judgment, court or legal subject area.

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IALS holds one guide to Swiss arbitration law.

Müller, C. International arbitration : a guide to the complete Swiss case law (unreported and reported). Thomson, 2004.

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IALS currently subscribes to the published series of books Schweizerisches Privatrecht. which started in 1969. The individual volumes cover different subject areas within Swiss private law and are gradually updated when required. There is also a French language version of the series (Traité de Droit Privé Suisse) which is not held at IALS.

English language sources held at IALS include:

Dessemont, F. & Ansay, T. Introduction to Swiss law. 3rd ed. 2004, Kluwer Law International

Lengauer, D. et al. ed. Company law in Switzerland. 2009, Schulthess

Thévenoz, L. Trusts in Switzerland 2001 (bilingual English/French)

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Research Guides

Bovey, Gregory M. The Swiss legal system and research. (GlobaLex. Global Research Tools) 2006. Updated in November 2015 by Martin Molina and Alisa Burkhard

These guides provide a detailed background introduction to the country, its legal structure and information sources with links to relevant websites.

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It is possible to search for articles on Swiss law using the Index to Foreign Legal Periodicals. This is available onsite at IALS within the Electronic Law Library. The database does not hold full text articles. English terms can be used in the search but articles on Swiss law may be in French, German or Italian.

IALS Library has a current subscription to the following printed titles.

Zeitschrift für Schweizerisches Recht (1852-). IALS holds the NF (Neue Folge) series (vol. 1, 1882-)

Schweizerische Zeitschrift für Strafrecht = Revue Pénale Suisse (1895-). This was previously known as Zeitschrift für Schweizer Strafrecht (1888-1895) which is also held at IALS.

Zeitschrift des Bernischen Juristenvereins = Revue de la Société des Juristes Bernois. (vol. 102, 1966- held at IALS)

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Online resources

Swiss Confederation: In addition to providing full text access to legislation and to the Constitution, this site provides a wide variety of background information about the Swiss Federal Authorities. There are links to individual government departments and to the sites of the main courts and individual cantons . A publications department provides information about relevant documents.

Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights: A research and teaching institute created by the University of Geneva. The institute focuses on law of armed conflict and international human rights.

Swiss Institute of Comparative Law  The Institute provides a legal advice service on topics relating to European Union law, national legal systems and international private and public law. The library catalogue is available online and visiting researchers are welcome to use the library. The site interface is available in English, French, German and Italian.

Swiss Federal Institute of Intellectual Property Law  A federal agency for intellectual property matters which was founded in 1888. Since January 1996 it has also had the status of an independent public organisation. Provides services relating to patents and copyright and is available in English, Italian and Romanian in addition to  German and French.

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