Legal research can be very complex and will often require the expertise of a trained professional but there are some ways that individuals can research the law themselves. Finding answers to legal questions can involve doing research in a number of places: a public library, a Law Society library, a government department or the College of Law Library.
Public libraries and regional libraries often have general legal information and copies of important legislation. They can be a good beginning point for some understanding of a problem or question.
Many government departments and agencies have publications and fact sheets on a wide range of topics that outline rules and regulations, appeal processes and other resources. Many federal departments can be reached through the Government of Canada’s website at Canada.ca. Many provincial departments can be reached through the provincial government’s website at Saskatchewan.ca. Both websites provide access to actual legislation, as well as general legal information, answers to frequently asked questions (FAQ’s) and links to other government departments and related organizations.
The Public Legal Education Association of Saskatchewan (PLEA) has plain-language legal information on a variety of topics, including family law. PLEA does not give legal advice for specific problems. However, PLEA can help with general legal information, including suggestions on where to turn with a problem. PLEA is a province-wide service.
There are several sources of law, including written laws, called statutes, and court decisions, called case law. Often to have a full picture of what a law is, we need to know both what statute law there is, as well as what case law exists in the area. Statutes help us to know what a particular law says, while case law can help us to understand how a particular law applies to a particular situation. Again, this may require advice from a lawyer.
Our statute laws can be passed by Parliament or the provincial Legislative Assembly, depending on whether the federal government or the provinces have the constitutional responsibility for that area of the law. Municipal governments fall under provincial responsibility and also pass laws called bylaws. Judges interpret statutes when they decide cases in court. They often look to related case law to see what other judges have said. These judicial decisions form part of the law, just as statutes do.
When a judge gives written reasons for a decision in a court case, those reasons are recorded and are available to the public. The Canadian Legal Information Institute (canlii) has a searchable database of Canadian cases that is available to the public free-of-charge. The Law Society of Saskatchewan's website has a data base of Saskatchewan Cases. They also have online tutorials on how to use both canlii and the Saskatchewan Cases Database.
As well as cases themselves there are often books and journal articles dealing with various aspects of the law. You can visit the College of Law Library or a Law Society of Saskatchewan library to find these types of resources.