Skip to Main Content

InfoSkills voor Bestuurskunde

InfoSkills @ TiU

Knowledge sources

So far, two dimensions of sources have been addressed: the level of expertise of the target audience, and the method of publication. 

Important, however, is also the main object of research within a specific field of study. This is especially relevant for legal researchers since in the field of law, unique materials are studied. Legal scholars make use of a variety of sources, apart from books, journal articles, papers, magazines etc. The output from legislators, judges, parliaments and organizations is just as important as books and articles written by legal scholars. 

When searching for literature you'll come across so-called 'sources of law' and sources that describe and comment these sources of law. 

What are the knowledge sources (NL: kenbronnen) of law?

As a future scholar or law practitioner, you need to know what the ‘knowledge sources' of law are and where to find them. Usually, these sources are divided into the following selections:

  1. Legislation (NL: wetgeving): laws and regulations passed by a legislature.
    Examples are laws enacted by national parliaments, regulations from supranational organisations, such as the European Union, or international organizations, like the United Nations. Also, preparatory documents are considered part of legislative sources. These are documents such as proposals for legislation and their explanatory notes, and the reports and discussions from and in legislative bodies.
  2. Treaties (NL: verdragen): agreements between two or more states. 
  3. Case law (NL: jurisprudentie or rechtspraak): verdicts from courts, judges. Both national and international. 
  4. Principles of law (NL: rechtsbeginselen): leading notions, rationales, principles in law. Such as equality, legal certainty, legality.

All these ‘primary’ sources of law are subject to discussion in the legal scholarly community. This brings us to the last knowledge sources of law (also known as secondary sources):

  1. Legal doctrine/legal literature (NL: juridische doctrine/rechtsliteratuur): this encompasses all sources where legal scholars describe, explain, interpret, systemize, comment, discuss the above ‘primary’ sources of law. That’s why they are sometimes called ‘secondary sources’. These include books, journal articles, commentaries, annotations, websites, papers etc., written by legal scholars and legal practitioners, often traditionally published (i.e., published by a commercial or scholarly publisher). We will go further into that in the next page.

Keeping a clear view  

Finding the knowledge sources of law can be complicated, as they are scattered in large quantities, in an abundance of places, in libraries and online. And the sources intertwine and influence each other. It’s legal scholars who introduce the system in the law, who comment primary sources, and propose solutions for legal problems, thus influencing the legislative and case law process. On the other hand, lawmakers and judges often also work as scholars, thus influencing the legal doctrine.

Knowing how and where to systematically find these knowledge sources is vital to a good understanding of the law and the legal system. And knowing beforehand what kind of knowledge source you are looking for, and to be able to distinguish them is important too, because each knowledge source often has its own place where to find them.