Most Latin American legal systems are based on civil law. They have civil codes, based on Spanish or Portuguese civil law. In theory, court decisions in civil law countries apply only to the parties to the case and only to interpret statutes. There are fewer case reporters than in common law countries, with published decisions often only brief summaries with no little discussion of the facts of the case. The official legal publication for most countries is the Official Gazette, which includes new laws, regulations, legislative background, and important cases. Caselaw is becoming more important in many civil law countries, and citations may appear in secondary works. Treatises and law reviews are very important, so legal researchers rely on citations to legal scholars and authoritative legal writings.
Legal systems of the Latin American countries do vary, as do their publications, so the researcher should start by getting background on the legal system, history, institutions, and publications of the individual country.
Some sources for background include:
Search discoverE to find treatises and monographs on the law of particular countries, comparative and topical works, and online resources. In general, search by subject for the individual country, “law,” and any particular topic.
Most national constitutions are available translated into English as well as in official languages, and many sources offer previous versions of constitutions and secondary sources on constitutional law. Some options include:
Case law is less likely to published in civil law countries, especially for courts other than the court of last resort. Supreme Court cases are sometimes published in official gazettes. Decisions of some courts may be made available on the web.
Official Gazettes (or official journals, or Diario Oficials) are the official daily or weekly publications of governments. Contents vary but they always include statutes, and sometimes regulations, judicial decisions, and treaties.
Legislation of many countries is not officially codified. If a country has no code, if there is not an up-to-date code available, if the code is not available to you, or if it is not available in English translation, you may need secondary sources or news sources to find citations or dates. You may also find databases of statutes to search. Uncodified statutes of civil law countries are often published in official gazettes, which will allow you to search by date or a date range.
Law Journals, political science journals, and treatises are good ways to start your research on the law of other countries. Find citations and dates for primary documents, as well as explanations and analysis. These journal databases are all subscription resources available at Emory.
News on law, business, government, or politics can be a way to find information on the laws of other countries. Statutes and particularly case law may be quoted, cited, or summarized in news articles when they may not be available elsewhere. News sources can also be tracked for recent developments in your topic. Most of these are subscription databases.
NYU GlobaLex: detailed to guides to legal research in most Latin American countries, including description of the legal systems, resources, and links. There is also a 2013 guide to Current Constitutional Developments in Latin America., and a 2014 guide to Researching the Law of Latin America.
Law Library of Congress: Guide to Law Online. Links to official gazettes and other sources for legislation and caselaw, government sites, and other guides and information sources.
Foreign Law Guide (subscription database): Lists official and important sources of law by country, English translations, and internet resources. Subject area sections include statute citations.
Yale Law Library: Finding the Law of Latin America.
Emory Woodruff Library: Latin American and Caribbean Studies Guide