International law can become a very complicated matter for any legal researcher, as the legal systems between governments can be fundamentally different, even if they share the same democratic principles. while Canada relies predominantly on a Common Law system, which is predicated on judicial decisions. Actual international laws, which exist primarily under the governance of the United Nations and the UN Charter, where they do exist, represent recognition of legal systems (nations) over private individuals, and refer to such elements and issues as jurisdiction and treaties between nations.
Generally, International Law takes three different forms: public international, private international, and supranational. Private international laws cover conflicting laws between nations, that cover issues of jurisdiction; namely which court will overhear a proceeding or what nation’s laws govern a certain situation. Supranational law is not overseen by the United Nations or other government treaties and is based heavily on theory, so it will not be covered in greater depth here because it does not pertain much to the concept of research.
Research in international law involves research on two basic fronts, examination of the sovereign rights of nations involved in the dispute, and of international laws mandated by the United Nations and other institutions, such as the International Criminal Court.
Researching the laws of individual nations, especially in nations other than the United States, can be extremely varied and involve comprehensive study. nations, like the United States, have systems built heavily on legal discourse and the maintenance of legal records and decisions, especially in Common law systems where precedents rule above all other laws. Other nations, especially those that restrict personal freedoms and offer less government transparency, can be more difficult, but most civilized nations will have laws placed on the public record, and will usually have a functional legal profession who will generate literature about itself.
Researching public or private international laws will mainly involve working with facilities that oversee those particular laws, just as a paralegal would go to a local courthouse to examine material on local laws.
There are also many web portals and research tools that deal specifically with International Law. The Electronic Information System for International Law (EISEL, or eisel.org) is one of the more popular web based systems for researching international law, and many of the major law schools, such as Harvard, have their own journals for the study of international law.