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Foreign and International Law Library Guide: Home

This guide will enable you to research foreign law using specialised databases such as Westlaw and Heinonline

Which databases should I use to research foreign law?

The following databases are suggested for researching foreign law:

Westlaw International

This database contains foreign law materials (cases, legislation, treaties) from a large number of countries including the UK, US and Australia. It also contains business materials as well as both business and law journal articles.

LexisNexis Academic

This database contains foreign law materials (cases, legislation) from a number of different countries such as the US and UK. It also contains news articles as well as law journals. It also has business profiles and biographical profiles.


This database contains US materials (cases, legislation) as well as some international materials and classical legal materials. It also contains a large number of law journals, including South African law journals.

Access to Resources from Off-campus

If you are working from off campus - all you need to do sign in with your UCT student number and password.

Certain resources require a password - please contact the Law Library to get this information

Foreign Law vs International Law

What is 'foreign law'?

Foreign law is the law of another country, including cases decided in that legal system

What is 'International law'?

Generally speaking, it can be defined as a body of rules established by custom or treaty and recognized by nations as binding in their relations with one another. International law also relates to the functioning of non-State entities whose functioning is within the international community (examples of this are for instance UNICEF)

Why is this distinction important?

If South Africa is party to a treaty / custom in International Law, then that treaty is legally binding on South Africa. Foreign law is not legally binding but can be considered in court cases (as demonstrated here in Section 39 of the Constitution):

39.   Interpretation of Bill of Rights.—(1)  When interpreting the Bill of Rights, a court, tribunal or forum—


must promote the values that underlie an open and democratic society based on human dignity, equality and freedom;


must consider international law; and


may consider foreign law.

(2)  When interpreting any legislation, and when developing the common law or customary law, every court, tribunal or forum must promote the spirit, purport and objects of the Bill of Rights.

(3)  The Bill of Rights does not deny the existence of any other rights or freedoms that are recognised or conferred by common law, customary law or legislation, to the extent that they are consistent with the Bill.


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Anthea Paulsen
Brand van Zyl Law Library
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