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Foreign Law - Primary Sources: Translations

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Background

Although U.S. researchers will usually want translations of foreign legal materials, not all foreign legal works are translated into English.  They are usually available for constitutions, sometimes for codes or statutes, and only rarely for case law.  When they are available, they are not official, and their accuracy varies.  The first choice for the researcher is to find collections of legal materials already translated.  Some translations of legal materials are available on foreign government sites, commercial datbases, and foreign bar associations and law firms. If there is none available, the researcher may have to rely on translation of individual words and phrases to supplement partial knowledge of the language, or electronic or automated translation of websites and documents.

Collections & Links to Translations

Law Library of Congress: Translation of National Legislation into English.  A research guide with listings by country of English language print and web resources (legislative, judicial, and secondary), as well as the official sources.  Selected jurisdictions include Afghanistan, Argentina, Brazil, China, France, Germany, Greece, Israel, Italy, Japan, Lebanon, Mexico, and Russia.  The guide includes sections on international organizations and international courts with English language resources and translated national laws.

Codices (Council of Europe): Translations or English-language summaries of European constitutional law decisions, and constitutional provisions and statutes related to the judiciary from countries around the world.  The site includes an alphabetical index to topics for finding cases.

Foreign Law Guide (subscription database): The database includes titles of translations of legal materials and English-language summaries of foreign law, with links if they are available on the web.

Institute for Transnational Law: Foreign Law Translations: A project with select decisions and statutes from France and Germany translated into English.  Cases are mostly older, with no recent additions to the database.

Individual Country Translations

China

France

  • Legifrance: French codes in English translation
  • Legifrance: links to translations of the Constitution, some decrees and judgments, and other legal texts
  • Conseil Constitutionnel: Some Decisions translated into English

Germany

  • Gesetze im Internet:  Selected German statutes in English translation
  • German Law Archive: Civil and criminal codes and some individual statutes in English, some older court judgments, and bibliographies of German law in English

Israel

Japan

Republic of Korea

Mexico

The Netherlands

  • Dutch Civil Law: The Dutch Civil Code and Code of Civil Procedure in English, as well as some individual statutes and the Constitution

Taiwan

Spain

United Arab Emirates

Vietnam

Translation of Legal Words & Phrases

If you are able to read some materials in a foreign language, you may just need a few specialized legal terms in English translation to read the document.  Even if you plan to use an electronic translation like Google Translate when you find a foreign legal document, you may need to translate individual legal terms to search in foreign legal databases or government websites.  However, it is better to start with a date or citation (numerals) to search in databases in foreign languages. 

  • IATE: European Union terminology database.  Translate EU legal and government terms between EU languages.  Results are from European Union documents that are translated into multiple languages.
  • EuroVoc: European Union database with EU terms in all EU languages for browsing by topical headings or searching.
  • Linguee.com: Multi-lingual dictionary and search engine for translation between English and German, Spanish, French, and Portuguese.  Results include terms in context from translated documents, usually from UN, EU, and Canadian government documents.
  • Oxford Language Dictionaries Online (subscription database): Translations between English and Chinese, French, German, Italian, Russian, and Spanish.  The dictionary includes grammar and vocabulary tables as well as useful travel phrases.
  • UNTERM (United Nations Terminology Database): Translation of UN terminology between the six UN official languages (including Russian, Chinese, and Arabic), plus German and Portuguese.

In addition, the law library reference collection includes bilingual legal dictionaries.

Electronic Translation

Use caution when using electronic translation, since your results are not as accurate as those created by human translators, and machine translation sometimes has difficulty with technical legal terms. Legal terms may have different meanings in different countries or may have no equivalents in other languages. Limit your use to identifying documents and websites and getting a general understanding of the document.

  • Google Translate: Translation of words and phrases or sections of text, webpages, or documents.
  • vLex Global (subscription database): Use the translation tool to get electronic translation of documents in the database, including a side-by-side view feature.

Subject Guide