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A library subject guide detailing handy resources for the study of international law.
Last Updated: Apr 14, 2016 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

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International Law Subject Guide

This guide provides an overview of resources available for the study of international law. See tabs above for more information.

For information related to law resources and the Law Library generally generally, rather than from an international law perspective, please see the Law subject guide.

                  Photo of interior of Law Library Turnbull Foundation Reading Room by John Gollings / 

        Sydney Law School Collection


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    Sources of International Law

    What is International Law?

    Unlike domestic law, no single code exists to determine international law. Article 38(1) of the Statute of the International Court of Justice identifies the major sources of international law and two subsidiary sources, directing courts to apply:

    1) International Conventions (treaties), whether general or particular, establishing rules expressly recognised by the contesting states. See Treaties tab for further information.

    2) International Customs as evidence of a general practice accepted as law. Customary law has evolved from the practice of states and is dependent upon factors such as consistency of practice, generality of practice, and duration of practice. Further, customary law is not formed simply by consistent state practice - state practice must be undertaken in the belief that the practice is an obligation, rather than merely habitual.

    (Source: Martin Dixon, Textbook on International Law7th ed.2013 pp. 32-36)

    3) The general principles of law recognised by civilised nations.The invocation of 'general principles' tends to occur where there are no settled customs or treaties to fall back on to consider the international legal question at hand. General principles can be cited where they are recognised by domestic legal systems around the world, or where they can be taken directly from international legal relations, and legal relations generally.

    (Source: Gideon Boas, Public International Law: Contemporary Principles and Perspectives2012 pp. 105-107)

    4) Judicial decisions - see Courts, Tribunals and Case Law tab for further information. Considered a subsidiary source of international law.

    5) The teachings of the most highly qualified publicists - Considered a subsidiary source of international law and carrying less persuasive weight than the decisions of interntational courts, Article 38(1)(d) allows the ICJ to seek clarification of international law questions through reference to the work of the "most highly qualified publicicsts". As there are limited opportunities to examine specific international court decisions, commentators have carefully examined and analysed such decisions in texts and journal articles and this is useful in the formulation of international law. Although this may play a lesser role than previously, "...Juristic writers continue to influence the formation of international law by distilling the evidence, subjecting it to critical analysis and articulating the principles."

    Source: Gillian Triggs, International Law: Contemporary Principles and Practices2nd ed., 2011, p. 76


      Subject Guide

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      Grant Wheeler
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      University Library
      Fisher Library | F03
      The University of Sydney NSW 2006 Australia
      T +61 2 9351 0217
      F +61 2 9351 0301
      M 0434 367 472
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      Subject Guide

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      Rosie O'Donnell
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