By Amy Flick
Because I frequently need to help students find primary authority of other countries, yet have no hope of finding materials published in Chinese, Korean, or Japanese, I was pleased to see a program on Asian Legal Information in English in the AALL Annual Meeting program. I was even more pleased to find the program interesting, useful, and supplemented with handouts.
Alex Zhang was the coordinator, moderator, and introductory speaker. She started by stressing the importance of good, reliable translations, but noted that even “official” translations by government entities are still for informational purposes only. In presenting the portion of the program on finding primary law of China, she included:
- The official site NPC (National People’s Congress) Database of Laws and Regulations. The search box is unreliable, so Alex recommended browsing by category, requiring some knowledge of the structure of Chinese law to find the appropriate category. She cautioned that the laws retrieved may not include the dates of coverage, making it unclear for the user if they have the most current version.
- State Council Laws & Regulations
- Commercial sources including Lawinfochina, Westlaw China, and Lexis China, all comparable, and expensive, but Alex is most familiar with Lawinfochina. She recommends it for comprehensive coverage and inclusion of the most recent laws, and for a citator link to amendments to laws.
- Although case law is not considered primary authority in China, a Stanford Law School project is translating Chinese Guiding Cases.
Alex wrapped up by noting that good translation is hard: “the question in legal translation isn’t which one is right, but which one is less wrong.” She suggests comparing and contrasting multiple translations and asking experts for help.
Anne Mostad-Jensen presented on law of Hong Kong and Macau. For these jurisdictions, she stressed that it is particularly important to understand their histories. Because of Hong Kong’s history as a British colony, it has a hybrid system of common and civil law, and English is one of its official languages for legal publication. Sources for Hong Kong legal information in English include:
- The Hong Kong Basic Law, which is equivalent to a constitution.
- The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Gazette
- The Hong Kong Judiciary website
- The Department of Justice Bilingual Laws Information System, which has legislation and ordinances, a subject index to ordinances, and an English-Chinese glossary of legal terms.
Macao as a former Portuguese colony has a civil law system. English translation is available for only select legislation and some indexes, not for caselaw, and the translations are not official. Sources include:
- The Basic Law of the Macao Special Administrative Region
- The Macao Government Printing Bureau has some legislation and codes translated into English.
- The WTO’s requirements that legislation related to trade and intellectual property be made available in its official languages, including English, make the WTO website a good source for finding English translations for laws of most countries.
Jootaek “Juice” Lee demonstrated resources on law of the Republic of Korea in English. Although South Korea has a civil law system, it has been influenced by U.S. common law. English translations are not official, but English is widely used, and there are English language versions of most government websites. However, terminology can be an issue because of differences in civil and common law. Most primary sources are available in English, and government publishers try to provide accurate translations. Juice warned that Korean law changes rapidly, and English translations may not keep up. There are also issues with understanding the differences between public, private, and social law. He recommended sources including:
- The Korea Legislation Research Institute. There are search options including government body and an alphabetical list, and a legal terms glossary for finding official Korean terms for searching.
- The Ministry of Government Legislation, which Juice recommends searching by words in the title.
- The National Law Information Center. Because of the problem of lag time for translations, Juice suggested searching by title words (in English) in the Korean language version to find the most recent version of legislation.
- The Supreme Court of Korea and the Constitutional Court have some decisions translated into English.
- There are good research guides for finding South Korean law in English, including the Foreign Law Guide database, the Library of Congress’ Guide to Law Online, and Juice’s own guide on GlobaLex.
Mike McArthur had the final presentation in the program on finding Japanese law in English. Japanese efforts to be more international led to a 2004 Japanese law requiring translation of Japanese laws. Laws are first made available in tentative translation before an “official” version is available. Of course, translations are still unofficial. Mike warned that the Japanese calendar has a different date system, so he provided a “cheat sheet” for Japanese dates. Sources for Japanese law in English include:
- The Ministry of Justice’s Japanese Law Translation The database of laws and regulations is searchable with multiple options (title, number, category), and it has a dictionary for finding Japanese legal terms.
- The Supreme Court of Japan. Although Japan has a civil law system, Supreme Court decisions are relevant, and some are translated into English.
- An additional resource for Japanese legal research is ministry reports and white papers, which are translated into English, and which include detailed statistics.
Mike reminded the audience, as did the other speakers, that a legal researcher working with foreign languages and translations can get in over their head quickly, and that they should reach out to a specialist for help.
All of the presentations in the program were outstanding, and I appreciate the hard work by the speakers in putting them together!