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:
- Foreign Law Guide (subscription database)
- Library of Congress: Country Profiles
- Department of State: Country Fact Sheets, major reports, DipNote Blog
- John Merryman, Comparative Law: Historical Development of the Civil Law Tradition in Europe, Latin America, and East Asia (2010). K585 .M478 2010.
- Ángel Oquendo, Latin American Law (2006). KG95 .O68 2006 (Foundation Press casebook)
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:
- Constitution Finder (University of Richmond): World constitutions in official languages and English.
- Georgetown Political Database of the Americas: Constitutions in original languages, plus comparative articles and descriptions of legal and government institutions. The database also has political data on elections, parties, and institutions, and links and citations to reference materials on governments and political parties.
- Constitutions of the Countries of the World: Oceana multi-volume looseleaf, K3157 .E5 B56. English translations and some original texts, with history and background. Also available online in the Oxford Constitutions of the World database (see below).
- Oxford Constitutions of the Countries of the World (Subscription database): Full text of current and historical constitutions in English translation with background articles and bibliographies.
- Hein Online's World Constitutions Illustrated: (Subscription database): Current and historical constitutions, in English and official languages. The database includes commentaries and selected law review articles available on Hein Online or with links to other campus databases. Each country’s entry includes a bibliography of books on the country's constitutional law and a news feed of articles related to the country's constitution and government.
- Constitute Constitutions Project: A free resource for making world constitutions available and searchable. Constitutions are available in English translation. Articles of constitutions are tagged by topic so they can be browsed or searched. Topics include international law, the judiciary, elections, and rights and duties.
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.
- NatLaw World (subscription database): NatLaw includes individual judgments or decisions or many Latin American countries. Search by title of the case or use the advanced search to search by Boolean or keywords.
- vLex Global (subscription database): vLex includes case law, arranged by country and court, for many Latin American countries. Filters are available for searching by topic, date, citing documents, title, and summary, as well as full-text searching.
- Lexis: Includes judgments from the Suprema Corte de Justicia of Mexico. From Lexis Advance, go to Research>Lexis.com>Find Laws by Country or Region.
- Lexadin World Law Guide: Lists courts with links where available for most Latin American countries.
- Law Library of Congress Guide to Law Online: Links to courts, usually the court of last resort or to the judicial administrative organization.
- Worldlii: Includes links to courts and collections of case law.
- Foreign Law Guide (subscription database): Lists names of court reporters and includes a few links to case law sources.
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.
- Directory of Online Government Gazettes: Entries by country include links, descriptions and contents, languages, and format. Notes are included on whether gazettes are free or fee-based. There are links to free access for Official Gazettes of Belize, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela; free summaries for Chile and El Salvador.
- Law Library of Congress Guide to Law Online: Official names of official gazettes, with a link if available free on the web.
- vLex Global (Subscription database): A Spanish database with extensive Latin American content. vLex includes searchable official gazettes for many Latin American countries, including Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, and Chile. Electronic translation into English is available.
- NatLaw World (National Law Center for Inter-American Free Trade, subscription database): A database of Latin American primary materials in the original languages: Spanish, Portuguese, or English. The database includes mostly individual laws but does have the Official Gazette (Diario Oficial de la Federación) for Mexico and for Honduras.
- Lexis: The Mexican Diario Oficial is available on Lexis.com. From Lexis Advance, go to Research>Lexis.com>Find Laws by Country or Region.
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.
- vLex Global (Subscription Database): Extensive collections of statutes for Latin America. Includes codes and collections of individual statutes, including official gazettes. Electronic translation, but you will need to search in the original language. Set up an individual password to use the translation tool and to save documents.
- Natlaw World: Laws, codes, and regulations for countries in the Americas, in original languages. Search by title, or use the advanced search to search full-text with Boolean commands.
- Westlaw: WestlawNext has the Mexican Civil Code Annotated and Mexican Commercial Code Annotated in English translation.
- Lexis: Lexis.com has a few resources for Latin America. From Lexis Advance, go to Research>Lexis.com>Find Laws by Country or Region.
- Mexico: Federal and state legislation, the Codigo de Comercio de Mexico and Codigo Penal de Mexico, and the Diario Oficial
- For most Latin American countries, Lexis has secondary sources on subjects including tax and copyright.
- Foreign Law Guide (Subscription database): The article for each country includes names, descriptions, and sometimes links to codes and statutes. The subject sections include citations to individual laws, sometimes with links or with sources for translations or for summaries in secondary sources.
- IPU National Parliaments: Links to legislative bodies, and the Parline database with information and data on legislatures and elections.
- Georgetown Political Database of the Americas: Links to Latin American legislative bodies.
- Print civil codes are available in the 4th floor classified collection for some countries, including Argentina, Peru, Brazil, Costa Rica, Mexico, and Chile. See discoverE to search for dates and locations.
Journals & Secondary Sources
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.
- Index to Foreign Legal Periodicals (via Hein Online) includes law reviews published in Latin American countries, as well as articles on Latin American countries published in other countries. Search the index entries or browse by country subject or legal subject. Articles will be linked if they are available in Hein Online, and there is a link to the library catalog to see if journals are available in other databases or in the library’s print collection, but most will require interlibrary loan.
- vLex Global (subscription database): vLex includes law journals and books published in or about many Latin American countries.
- JSTOR: JSTOR is a full-text , pdf image journal database. Disciplines include Latin American Studies (67 journal titles, going back as far as 1917), History, Political Science, and Public Policy. Use the Beta Search for filters including year of publication, subject area, and language, or the Advanced Search to search by author, title, publication title, or discipline.
- Columbia International Affairs Online (CIAO): A database that includes journals, working papers, policy briefs, books, and reports. Content includes academic journals, but also papers and reports from institutes, think tanks, and political study centers. Most documents are published in the U.S. and in English. Subject areas to search include Latin America.
- PAISInternational (Public Affairs Information Service): Abstracts and citations of articles, government documents, books, and reports on government and public affairs. Most have links to the articles, or SFX links to full-text articles in other Emory databases. Most articles are in English.
- Hispanic American Periodicals Index (HAPI): U.S. and foreign journal articles on Latin America and on Hispanics in the U.S. Subjects include politics, government, and history. Some articles are available in English. Results are citations, some with full-text links.
- Clase Periodica: Index of Latin American journals, mostly in Spanish and Portuguese, with SFX links to full-text if the journals are available in Emory databases.
- Handbook of Latin American Studies: Library of Congress searchable bibliography of books and reports on social sciences and the humanities in the Library of Congress, with some titles in English. Titles range from 1935 to the present.
- Gale World Scholar: Latin America and Caribbean Archive. Documents from the 16th century to recent include primary documents, including State Department reports; historical books, manuscripts, and newspaper articles, academic journal articles, and statistics. The Advanced Search allows limits to searching by keyword or subject, content type, document type, or language.
- Sabin Americana: Books and pamphlets about the Americas from 1500 to 1926. Full-text PDF, with an eTable of Contents.
- discoverE: Search the library catalog for treatises and monographs on the law of particular countries, comparative and topical works, and online resources. You can also search articles by categories of databases, including Business Information, History, or Social Sciences. Notes for article results include if the article is available in full-text, with a link.
News & Current Awareness
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.
- Global Legal Monitor: Law Library of Congress. A free resource that reviews major legal news stories with links or citations to primary documents. Search the archives or browse by country or topic.
- vLex Global: vLex includes searchable full-text newspapers for many Latin American countries.
- Latin American Newsstand: Full-text database of newspapers from Latin America, with regional magazines and other news sources with coverage of Latin America. Some results are in English.
- EIU Viewswire: The Economist Intelligence Unit. Business intelligence and news, plus country briefings, and political news.
- EMIS Emerging Markets: News in the language published, including some in English, on business and economics. The database includes economic and financial reports and news from some Latin American countries.
- Westlaw: LATNEWS database: Latin American and Caribbean news from newswires and newspapers.
- Lexis: News by Region: Includes Global News Wire, English and Spanish language news and business publications. Available on Lexis.com. From Lexis Advance, go to Research>Lexis.com>News & Business tab>Country & Region (excluding U.S.)>Americas (excluding U.S.)>News to find a list of individual publications and reports or a general search of North and South American news.
Other Research Guides
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