Find International Court Documents: Home

Introduction

U.S. legal researchers, accustomed to working in a common law system, routinely seek judicial decisions bearing on issues relevant to their matters, and rely on citators in commercial platforms to determine how a case on which they might rely has been treated by subsequent courts (or the legislature).  They are likewise comfortable working in a judicial system established by federal, state, and local law, which enjoys power to enforce its decisions, and which typically relies on prior precedent in deciding present cases per the doctrine of stare decisis

In considering how international courts differ from U.S. courts (or the domestic courts of other nations), and how this might impact one's research strategy, bear the following points in mind:

  • Source of authority: International courts are established by treaty, or resolution of intergovernmental organizations such as the United Nations.
  • Status as primary authority:  In contrast to domestic common law systems, judicial decisions are considered merely a "subsidiary" source of international law, with sources such as treaties and custom enjoying greater weight.
  • Voluntary participation: States and parties must typically opt in to avail themselves of an international court's jurisdiction, and such courts typically lack the enforcement mechanisms available to domestic courts.
  • Precedent:  Norms surrounding deference to precedent are not as strong in international courts as they are in common law domestic courts.  Furthermore, resources publishing international court decisions do not typically include "citators" allowing researchers to determine whether the decision has been discussed in subsequent matters or courts.

International courts may hear disputes between states, or between states and private parties, and often handle only particular types of disputes (ex. human rights, trade, certain crimes).  Arbitral bodies also increasingly handle disputes that arise between states, or between states and private parties, particular in the realm of investment disputes.  

Finding International Court Documents

Unlike case materials from domestic courts, which are oftentimes only available in commercial databases or publications, materials from international courts and tribunals are typically quite accessible.  Most international courts publish their decisions on the web, and some provide addition material such as party filings, transcripts or recordings of hearings, and court communications.  Since international courts hear far fewer cases than domestic courts, these materials are often fairly easy to browse.  Search functions on international court sites are typically less sophisticated than those in commercial databases, so if robust search functionality is required, researchers may prefer relying on databases hosting material from the particular court.  This guide provides links to both free and commercial sources of documents produced by several major international courts.

Free Sources of International Court Documents

Research Guides: Multiple International Courts

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