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Law: Case law

A guide to finding information relating to law. Includes links to key resources and sources of help.

Law reports

Law reports contain details of rulings of national and international courts, generally including a full transcript of the judgment.

When citing cases, there is an expectation that the 'best report' will be cited. In England and Wales, there are no official reports, but the Law Reports series is accepted as the most authoritative. This includes Appeal Cases (AC), Queen's Bench (QB), Family (Fam) and Chancery (Ch). The print run of these 'official' report sets are shelved at JOURNALS--PER 344.4207. This series aims to include all cases establishing new or modified legal principles, or otherwise of significance to the legal profession.

If a case is not reported in the Law Reports, then the case should, if possible be cited from either the Weekly Law Reports or the All England Law Reports.

Only if the case is not cited in any of these sources should the specialist series, such as Criminal Appeal Reports and Family Law Reports, be cited.

Prior to 1865, domestic law report publishing was not centrally co-ordinated. You'll find the majority of law reports from this early period reproduced in the Library's volumes of the English Reports. Use the indexes to this series to determine which volume of the reports to consult for a particular case.

The majority of law cases are not reported, as they do not establish or clarify a point of law. Unreported cases (those not published in a law report series) may be held in transcript form held by the court or tribunal involved. These are usually obtainable for a fee, either from the court or the shorthand writers attached to the court.

Finding a case in a print law report

If you do not have a law report citation for a case, you can use the print volumes of the Library's Current Law Case Citator to search for citations to reported cases.

If you do not recognise the law report series referenced in the citation, use a legal abbreviations index, such as the online Cardiff Index to Legal Abbreviations, to determine its full title. Finally, search the Enterprise catalogue by the full title of the law report series to obtain its location. For example:

  1. Citation is Hotson v East Berkshire Area Health Authority [1987] AC 750 
  2. Abbreviation AC = Law Reports Appeal Cases
  3. Enterprise shows the Law Reports Appeal Cases shelved on the 4th Floor at JOURNALS--PER 344.4207
  4. Locate the Journals section on the 2nd Floor; once at the Law Reports Appeal Cases, open the 1987 volume at page 750 for the case report of Hotson v East Berkshire Area Health Authority

Finding a case online

Law reports

Most UK-published law reports are available online in full-text on one or more of the following Library databases:

It is recommended to search the vLexJustis database by the name or citation for a UK case to get details of the available reports for the case, with direct full-text links through to reports on the Library's subscription databases and free Web content.

LexisLibrary and Westlaw UK also contain extensive full-text case law collections from EU and US courts, with lesser coverage of English-speaking Commonwealth jurisdictions, such as Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Unreported cases

Many unreported UK judgments are also available on these two databases from the 1970s onwards.

Decisions of international and national courts, both published and unreported, are now commonly released free on the Web, including:‚Äč

The British and Irish Legal Information Institute (BAILII) provides free access to databases of collected UK court and tribunal judgments and the case law of the Court of Justice of the European Union and European Court of Human Rights.