The Venice Commission, officially “The European Commission for Democracy through Law,” is:
…the Council of Europe’s advisory body on constitutional matters. Established in 1990, the commission has played a leading role in the adoption of constitutions that conform to the standards of Europe’s constitutional heritage.
Initially conceived as a tool for emergency constitutional engineering, the commission has become an internationally recognised independent legal think-tank.
It contributes to the dissemination of the European constitutional heritage, based on the continent’s fundamental legal values while continuing to provide “constitutional first-aid” to individual states. The Venice Commission also plays a unique and unrivalled role in crisis management and conflict prevention through constitution building and advice.
Its makeup is at once both obvious and eclectic:
All Council of Europe member states are members of the Venice Commission; in addition, Kyrgyzstan joined the commission in 2004, Chile in 2005 and the Republic of Korea and Montenegro in 2006, 50 members in all. Belarus is associate member, while Argentina, Canada, the Holy See, Israel, Japan, Kazakhstan, Mexico, the United States and Uruguay are observers. South Africa has a special co-operation status similar to that of the observers.
Of immediate use and interest are the Commission’s two databases available online. The “Codices” contains material on constitutional law. That’s putting it mildly. To my eyes, this is a most extraordinary achievement, giving you access to all the members’ constitutions, the legislation governing their top courts, and a precis of recent decisions of their constitutional courts. You can find this material by searching or by browsing by country or by a (incredibly detailed) taxonomy. Canada’s constitutions, Supreme Court Act, and recent SCC constitutional decisions are all here. And everything is available in French and English.
You may find the navigation tools for the database a bit hard to work with. (There’s a CD that you can obtain that is said to be more user friendly.) But if you use the HTML as opopsed to the Java tools, and if you click on the folder icons rather than on the accompanying words, you should be able to figure things out fairly quickly.
The second database is Vota, a database of members’ electoral laws, accessible again pretty much every which way, including via a map.
This is a very impressive achievement.