In 2014, Egypt, Thailand, and Tunisia adopted new constitutions. On June 1, 2015, Norway amended its constitution to codify judicial review. Recent constitutional developments and events like these generate documents that can be hard to find. The texts of proposed amendments to constitutions, draft constitutions, and recent constitutions can be published in a variety of sources. These documents might not exist in English translation, but only in the original language or vernacular. Herewith some tips for locating new constitutional texts.
The standard sources for constitutional texts are regularly or continuously updated, yet they can be at least a year out of date. English translations may not appear in them for even more than a year. It’s good to try them first anyway. Start in the following order:
- Constitute: The World’s Constitutions to Read, Search, and Compare
- English Constitute, a free Comparative Constitutions Project tool sponsored by Google, includes 194 constitutions in force as of September 2013, and is continually updated with amendments and replacement texts;
- The Arabic Constitute site includes constitutions for 54 independent states;
- This site is useful for recent constitutions in English translation and for accessing new constitutional provisions by topic;
- Constitute facilitates comparisons of national constitutional provisions by hundreds of topics under the following broad categories: Amendment, Culture and Identity, Elections, Executive, Federalism, International Law, Judiciary, Legislature, Principles and Symbols, Regulation and Oversight, Rights and Duties.
- World Constitutions Illustrated
- This subscription database is accessible via HeinOnline;
- It includes current and historical constitutions and constitutional documents for over 190 countries in original-language versions and in English translation (see brochure for more information);
- This database is useful for original texts, consolidated texts (“amended as of xxx date”), and amending laws (as published in official gazettes or other government sources);
- This database usually includes the text in PDF and indicates the source/ provenance, author, and date of the constitutional text;
- WCI links to scholarly articles and other commentary related to the constitutions in HeinOnline.
- Oxford Constitutional Law (OXCON)
- This fee-based platform consists of Oxford Constitutions of the World and US Constitutional Law;
- This platform merges and digitizes Constitutions of the Countries of the World, Constitutions of Dependencies and Territories, and Constitutions of the United States: National And State;
- This resource includes constitutional overviews/introductory notes and chronologies.
The 2014 constitutions of Egypt, Thailand, and Tunisia are the most recent documents in Constitute. WCI has Arabic, English, and French versions of the 2014 Egyptian constitution, the interim constitution of Thailand as published in the official gazette in Thai and in English translation, and the 2014 Constitution of the Tunisian Republic in Arabic, English, and French. OXCON includes the 2014 constitutions of Egypt and Tunisia as translated into English by the Max Planck Institute and the 2014 Constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand (Interim) as translated into English by the Thai Council of State.
If the constitutional text you are looking for is not in these three databases, then look for more information about it in International IDEA’s ConstitutionNet (constitution-building resource), I*CONnect (The Blog of the International Journal of Constitutional Law and ConstitutionMaking.org), and news sources.
Once you have the name of the government source of the constitutional text and the date, you can look to see if it is published in government gazettes of laws. You can see lists at the CRL Foreign Official Gazette Database and University of Michigan Government Gazettes Online pages. Brill’s Foreign Law Guide, Mirela Roznovschi’s GlobaLex research guides, and the Law Library of Congress’ Guide to Law Online: Nations link to official gazettes on the web.
You can also see if a constitutional text is printed in recent journal or news articles. If a constitution is separately published by a government printer, you can check if libraries own copies by searching their catalogs. Constitutional texts are also published at official government websites (parliament, embassy), news sites, IGO and NGO websites, by research institutes, and in legal databases.
For European countries, newly amended constitutions are published at the Council of Europe Venice Commission (European Commission for Democracy Through Law) and OSCE/ODIHR Legislationline websites. Current constitutional texts are sometimes appended to United Nations documents.
Finally, do not forget people resources as a last resort. If all else fails, you are very pressed for time, or you do not have the language skills to search for the constitutional text, you can contact embassies and consular offices directly. You can consult with constitutional law scholars or practitioners at your institution. You can talk to lawyers from the country for which you’re trying to locate a constitutional text. Foreign law-trained LL.M.s, for example. And you can “ask a librarian”! Area studies librarians and specialists on legal materials for a particular country are very helpful. They can provide you with assistance in identifying the many possibilities for obtaining constitutional texts, or obtain the texts for you.
For example, I wanted to obtain the text of the June 1st Norwegian constitutional amendment. Because it’s so recent, the three major sources of constitutional texts did not have it (they’re about a year behind and mostly focus on English translations). My next step was to look to see if I could locate the text in a Norwegian government source – official gazette, parliamentary website, legal database. All else did fail. I can’t read Bokmål or Nynorsk Norwegian, and was under a deadline. So, I considered contacting people sources. One was the author of an I*CONnect blog post on this major constitutional reform for Norway, Anine Kierulf. Another was my Norwegian law librarian colleague, Bård Tuseth, author of the Foreign Law Guide chapter on researching the law of Norway. That’s what I did and…success! The text of the 1 June 2015 amendment to Norway’s constitution (Grunnlov/Grunnloven) is published in Norway’s Lovdata database:
I saker som reises for domstolene, har domstolene rett og plikt til å prøve om lover og andre beslutninger truffet av statens myndigheter strider mot Grunnloven.
[Unofficial translation: “In cases that are brought before the courts, the courts have the right and duty to verify whether laws and other decisions made state-government conflicts with the Constitution.”]
The Norwegian Parliament (Stortinget) has a page reproducing new §89 of the Constitution with an introductory note which explains (as does the I*CONnect blog post) that judicial review has been part of Norwegian customary constitutional law for at least 150 years and this amendment is codifying the practice of the courts.
Maybe in a year or two, an official English translation of this recent constitutional amendment will be available at the Norwegian Parliament’s website, and in Constitute, World Constitutions Illustrated, and Oxford Constitutional Law.
Bonjour, Lyo! Yes, it’s in lovdata, both the open and the pro-version – but, alas, only in Norwegian: https://lovdata.no/dokument/NL/lov/1814-05-17/KAPITTEL_5?q=grunnloven#KAPITTEL_5 …
Thanks, Anine and Bård!