Case Law

  • Law Reports series

    There are three general series of reports (which are all also available online - see Law Reports in electronic format). All law reports, unlike the official publication of legislation, are privately published.

    • The Law Reports - published since 1865 by the Incorporated Council of Law Reporting. This is the one series which has an 'official' status. It is divided into a number of sub-series. Each report is checked by the judge, giving it authority.
    • The Weekly Law Reports (W.L.R.)
    • All England Law Reports (All E.R.)

    There are numerous specialised series of law reports, which cover most subject areas. For example, the Criminal Appeal Reports (Cr.App.R.) and Family Law Reports (F.L.R.).

    Finding older cases (pre-1865)

    The following will help you find older cases:

    • All England Law Reports Reprint 1558-1935. Though selective, it provides brief summaries of cases.

    Please note: Law Reports older than 10 years are kept in storage and need to be requested in the Library's Help Zone.

    Most modern law reports are available electronically through databases. The databases below include many key cases and cover different series of Law Reports. There is no electronic database which contains all case law and all law reports. The databases are subscription sites and require a password. The link to each database provides access and password details:

    • Lawtel - provides digests of cases and links to some full text. It is a good source for recent cases. Additionally, it includes transcripts of unreported cases and contains Lawtel Human Rights, which provides full-text case law from the European Court of Human Rights.
    • LexisLibrary - a full-text database containing English, European and American law. It includes cases from many major series including the All England Law Reports. LexisLibrary also includes transcripts of unreported cases.
    • Westlaw - provides case reports from 1220. Full-text cases include The Law Reports and several other major series, including Criminal Appeal Reports, Lloyd's Law Reports, and Common Market Law Reports. E.U. cases are also available.

    Other legal databases which include case law can be found under Legal Databases on the Library subject web page for Law.

    General tips for searching online

    • Legal databases provide electronic access to a range of legal information, including case law.
    • If you are looking for a specific case, you may need to look at more than one database to find it. Cases are published in law reports and there are many different series of law reports - some databases only contain certain series. There is no electronic database which contains all case law and all law reports
    • Remember that the case reference may be indexed differently on a database. For example, Bunge Corp. v Tradax Exprt S A. Many electronic resources will have used the full party name. In this instance, Bunge Corporation v Tradax Export SA.
    • If you have a long or complicated case name, try just using keywords from the reference. For example, bunge v tradax. Be aware that some databases may not recognise the v symbol; try instead bunge and tradax.

    Searching for a case when you have the case citation.

    • The case citation gives an abbreviation for the series of law reports where the case is published, as well as additional information such as the volume, year and page. Check the Library guide to Legal Abbreviations ( Word or PDF) to find out which Law Report series the abbreviation stands for and where you can find it in the Library. You may come across some abbreviations which are not listed in the Library guide - have a look at the Law Abbreviations page for further information.
    • You can search LexisLibrary by case citation. LexisLibrary includes cases from many major series including the All England Law Reports and The Law Reports.
    • You can search Westlaw by case citation. Westlaw includes The Law Reports, Weekly Law Reports and several other major series.
    • Remember that if you are searching a database for a citation and you cannot find it, try one of the other law databases.

    Searching for a case by party name or by keyword (subject search)

    • The easiest way to search for a case by party name or by keyword is to use one of the electronic databases, such as Westlaw, Lawtel or LexisLibrary.
    • If you search by more than one party name, link the names with v or and (check the help on each database to check which link word to use).
    • If you want to search for more than one keyword:
      • use and to find where both words occur, for instance, terrorism and extradition will find cases which include both these words
      • use or to find where alternative terms occur, for example, boat or ship will find cases in which either word occurs.

    Many law journals publish reports, some of which are the only source for a case report in a particular area of law:

    • Law journals, such as the New Law Journal, publish reports of cases. They come out weekly so are a good source of current law. Also the Criminal Law Review publishes reports of cases. Often there will be a full report several months later in a Law Report series.
    • Professional journals such as the Estates Gazette publish reports on property law.
    • Newspapers, such as The Times, publish reports. The database LexisLibrary contains the full text of the main national newspapers.