FLAG Foreign Law Guide

How to Search the FLAG Foreign Law Guide

1 Searching
2 Displaying Records after a Search
3 Troubleshooting

1 Searching

FLAG contains collection descriptions of primary materials in print format for foreign jurisdictions held in UK libraries. Use the Collections screen to search for either the law of a particular country or the law made by an international organisation. General type of legal material lists the types of law material found in the libraries appraised. If you require legislation, specify 'legislation'; if you require court reports, specify 'court reports'. The heading legislation and court reports will identify only that small number of publications which contains both types of law material; the heading will not combine searches over all collections of legislation and all collections of court reports. Fill in at least one of the fields on the Collections search screen and Submit Query.

It's easy to find the information you want!

  1. Just select relevant options from the dropdown menus or type in your query in the free text field or click a Browse Choices button in the Advanced search screen.
    If you fill in more than one box, the results must meet all criteria.
    Example: Find collections that relate to the country: 'Belgium' AND include the general type of legal material: 'legislation'.
  2. Click Submit Query.
  3. Collections that meet your criteria are displayed in a results table.
  4. To obtain further detail about a particular collection click on any blue coloured text.

1.1 Finding words and phrases

In the Collections part of the database, use the Free Text search box. In Advanced Search use the All Fields search box.

Type the word you want to find (asylum) or type a phrase (law of the sea) to find those words, in that order. To find variations of word stems, type an asterisk at the end of one or more words (compan*). Use the symbols & / ! between words or phrases to represent Boolean AND, OR, NOT. Include a space before and after the symbol. Use the proximity operators w# (within) and p# (preceding) to find words near each other. See examples below.

Type this…

To find…

Trade marks

a phrase (those words, in that order)

Design / copyright

either word (or both)

Copyright & design

items that contain both words (items that contain just one of the words will be ignored)

Intellectual property ! patents

"intellectual property" but not "patents"

Disput* p5 arbitrat*

"dispute/disputes" preceding "arbitration/arbitrations/arbitrator" by 5 words or fewer. You can include an asterisk at the end of either word. Do not string together phrases (international disputes w5 arbitration).

Disput* w5 arbitrat*

"dispute/disputes" within 5 words of "arbitration/arbitrations/arbitrator" (before or after). Do not include phrases.

Words joined by & / ! are evaluated in left-to-right order: red & white / blue finds items that are red and white, or items that are blue. Use parentheses to control evaluation order: red & (white / blue) finds items that are red and white or red and blue.

1.2 Finding a Date

To find items by date in the Collections part of the database use the Free Text search box. In Advanced Search use the All Fields search box.

To find collections or publications by date, use one of the following formats noting the need to enclose the date/s with quotation marks




1.3 Doing less than, greater than, and "between" searches

You can search for items greater than or less than a certain value, or within a range. This is most commonly done when searching for dates, but may also be done when searching for values or text. Use the symbols shown below. Remember to enclose the phrases in quotation marks. A range consists of two values, low and high, separated by a colon. Include spaces around the colon.





Less than (before)

"< 1990" finds dates before 1990


Less than or equal to

"<= 1990" finds dates on or before 1990


Greater than (after)

"> 1990" finds dates after 1990


Greater than or equal to

">= 500" finds values greater than or equal to 500



"1990 : 1999" finds dates 1990 to 1999 (inclusive)
"200 : 300" finds values between 200 and 300 (inclusive)


Remember that FLAG is a large database and date searches may retrieve hundreds of hits.

1.4 Using a Browse Choices option

The Advanced search form includes Browse Choices buttons. Click it to display a dialog that shows words you can search for. This eliminates trial-and-error searching and makes searching easier. For more information, click the Help button in the Browse Choices dialog.

The Advanced search screen allows you to search across all or a wide selection of the fields in the database. If you obtain no results either restrict your search to fewer fields or use the simpler Collection or Library search screens. The Browse Choices options are alphabetical lists of the names used in the database. Fill in at least one of the fields. The Description field allows you to search for words appearing in a brief summary of each collection featured in the database. Note that the subject field has been used to describe only those collections not related to a particular country or international organisation, for example, law of the sea. If you are searching by country or international organisation ensure the subject field is left empty.

1.5 Using the AND-OR-NOT Droplist

The initial search screens for Collections and Advanced Search include an AND-OR-NOT droplist in front of most boxes. Use the droplist to do more sophisticated searches. The Boolean operator you select for a box determines how the search criteria in that box will be combined with criteria already evaluated. Boxes are evaluated from top to bottom (first box to last).

1.6 Using a Regular Droplist

If a search form includes a droplist next to a box, you can open the list and select one item for which to search. To clear the box, open the list again and select the blank line at the very top of the list.

1.7 Finding a term (exact, complete match)

A term is a complete item, with no additional text before or after. To search for a term, precede it with an equal sign (=). For example, =commercial arbitration finds only that complete term (and does not find just "commercial" or just "arbitration" or that phrase embedded in other text).

1.8 Case and Punctuation

Case in query criteria is usually ignored (a search for united states finds United States). Punctuation is also ignored, except for the and-or-not symbols (& / !) and the colon for range searches ( : ). If you want these characters to be interpreted literally, use quotation marks ("oil and gas") or replace the punctuation with a space (oil gas).

1.9 Reset Button

To clear query criteria, click the Reset button on the search form.

1.10 Submit Query Button

To start your search, click the Submit Query button.

2 Displaying Records After a Search

A successful search finds one or more records, which are displayed in your web browser as a report. Use the browser controls as you normally would, to browse, print, go back, etc. You can also:

3 Troubleshooting: Searches

Having trouble with a search? Some of the most common problems are listed below. If you don't find an answer here, take a look at WPMSG.HTM, which lists error messages in alphabetical order.

I got the message "Unable to recognize as a correctly formed query."

The program cannot understand the search criteria. Possible problems include:

- Typographical errors
- Mismatched quotes or parentheses
- Extra Boolean search symbols (e.g., you should have typed banking / finance instead of banking / finance / )

If you cannot determine what caused the error, try a simpler search (e.g., just a word in a box) to see if it works. If the search form includes Browse Choices buttons, use them to construct the query, instead of typing criteria. If even simple searches don't work, contact the webmaster for the site.

I found too many records.

If you used an asterisk, omit it and try an exact search instead (search for commercial instead of comm*).

Try using a Boolean symbol (& / !) between words to construct more precise queries. For example, to find articles about law of the sea, not sea bed, search for "law of the sea" ! "sea bed".

If the item you're searching for includes punctuation, substitute spaces for punctuation (search for Cote d Ivoire, not Cote d'Ivoire) or surround the item with quotation marks ("Cote d'Ivoire"). For countries it is better to use the Browse Choices option adjacent to the country search box to avoid difficulties and ensure spelling is consistent with that in the database.

I didn't find any records.

Examine the contents of the search form (especially if it is longer than the screen) to verify that you don't have query criteria left over from a previous search.

If you are not sure of the spelling, use an asterisk after the first few characters (petro*) or separate several possible spellings with a forward slash (search for petrol / petroleum).

If you did a complex search, try simplifying it to eliminate confusion. If the search form has Browse Choices buttons (for example on the FLAG Advanced Search screen, use them to view and paste items to search for. This eliminates guess-work.

If your search includes Boolean symbols (/ & !) or range searches (:), put spaces around the symbols.

Do not use words (and, or, not) for Boolean operators. You must use symbols (& / !).

Try using / instead of & between words. Using / means either word can be present (food / agriculture finds food or agriculture). Using & means both words must be present (food & agriculture will not find just "food" or just "agriculture").

Remember that range searches involving partial dates start from the beginning of the range. For example: "<1998" means "before 1998."

When I try to display records or change forms, I get the message, "Your current query has expired. Perform the search again."

The query set file that stored your search results has expired, so you'll have to do your search again. If this message occurs frequently, contact the webmaster for the site.

Help instructions adapted for FLAG by Dr. Peter Clinch, FLAG Project Manager, 2002 and revised 2014

Download IALS quick guide to FLAG (PDF)

Search technology supplied by Inmagic, Inc. http://www.inmagic.com.

FLAG Foreign Law Guide