Georgetown Law
Georgetown Law Library

United Kingdom Legal Research Guide

This in-depth guide will help researchers navigate legal materials for the United Kingdom.

Case Law

Table of Contents

Case Law Citations

For U.S. researchers who are unfamiliar with UK case law citations, the first step in retrieving a UK case will be to decipher the citation to determine in which reporter the case was published.  Knowing that information will help you to decide which electronic database to use to retrieve the full text of the court's opinion.  Some older cases may only be available in print.

Use these resources to interpret UK case law citations:

  • Index to Legal Citations and Abbreviations (3rd ed.) REF K85 .R3 2013
    This print resource for UK legal abbreviations also provides disambiguation for similar or identical abbreviations used in Australia, Canada, South Africa, and other Commonwealth countries.
     
  • Cardiff Index to Legal Abbreviations
    This free, Web-based resource covers legal abbreviations in the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and other Commonwealth jurisdictions, as well as the United States.
     

Case Law Reporting

The modern system of case law reporting in the UK dates from 1865. For assistance in locating cases that were reported prior to 1865, consult the Primary Sources page of the English Legal History research guide (scroll down to Case Reports).  Listed below are the contemporary UK case law reporters that researchers are most likely to encounter, along with their corresponding citation formats.  

  • The Law Reports. This quasi-official series, published since 1865 by the Incorporated Council of Law Reporting (ICLR) for England and Wales, is widely regarded as the most authoritative.  It is currently divided into four sub-series.  Appeal Cases (AC) publishes decisions of the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal, as well as appellate decisions issued by the High Court.  The remaining sub-series correspond to the three divisions of the High Court:  Chancery Division Cases (Ch)Queen's Bench Division Cases (QB); and Family Division Cases (Fam).  Citation Format:  party names, [year], sub-series abbreviation, page.
      
  • The Weekly Law Reports. This series, also published by the ICLR, appears each week in paperback.  The first section of each issue includes cases that are deemed to be worth reporting even though they do not raise new points of law.  These cases will not be republished in The Law Reports.  The second section includes cases of greater significance that eventually will be republished in The Law Reports.  Citation Format:  party names, [year], section number (1 or 2), WLR, page.
     
  • All England Law Reports.  This commercially published series has broader coverage than The Law Reports and The Weekly Law Reports.  Most practitioners consider the headnotes to be more helpful than the ones published in The Law Reports.  Citation Format:  party names, [year], All ER, page.

In addition to the reporters listed above, there are many specialized reporters published by commercial vendors that focus on particular types of cases.  As in the United States, cases often are published in more than one reporter.  Citations should be made to most authoritative reporter in which a case appears, with a clear preference given to The Law Reports.
 

Subscription Electronic Sources 

  • ICLR Online (Georgetown Law Only)
    Produced by the Incorporated Council of Law Reporting for England and Wales, this subscription database provides access to all cases published in The Law Reports (1865-present) and The Weekly Law Reports (1953-present), as well as cases published in the following specialized reporters:  The Business Law Reports (company, commercial, and IP law), The Industrial Cases Reports (employment, discrimination, and pension cases), and The Public and Third Sector Law Reports (adoption, charity, ecclesiastical law, education, and local government).  Case reports may be downloaded in PDF format.  For cases whose opinions are not reported in full, ICLR provides case summaries.

    • Basic Search -- Enter one or more keywords or party names in the search box.  Click on the "Search Help" link (to the right of the search box) for tips on how to construct a search and for a full list Boolean operators, proximity operators, and other search connectors.

    • Full Search -- Select this option to retrieve a case by citation or to limit searches to a specific court, judge or date range.  It is also possible to search by "catchwords," which are subject headings assigned to each case by the ICLR editors. 

    • Citator -- ICLR Online's citator will help you to determine if a case you have retrieved is still good law.  In addition to the subsequent appellate history of the case, the citator identifies all subsequent cases that have cited the court's opinion, as well as prior cases and legislation that are cited within the court's opinion.

  • Lexis (Georgetown Law Only)
    Lexis provides access to a wide range of U.K. case law.  Cases are organized in multiple, often overlapping databases.  The most inclusive database is UK Cases Combined, which includes all cases reported in The Law Reports (1865-present), The All England Law Reports (1936-present), and in more than a dozen specialized reporters (dates of coverage vary).  Cases from Scotland (1982-present) and Northern Ireland (1945-present) also are included.  There are separate databases for cases from England & Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and UK admiralty cases.

  • Westlaw (Georgetown Law Only)
    Westlaw's UK Case Law Database includes cases published in dozens of subject-specific case reporters (dates of coverage vary) and for historical cases published in The English Reports (covering the period from 1220 to 1865). Westlaw also has a UK case law citator that will help you to determine if a particular case is still good law. 

    Note that the The Law Reports and The Weekly Law Reports are no longer available on Westlaw.  If you have a citation to one of these quasi-official reporters, the best option for retrieving the case on Westlaw is to open the Advanced Search template in in the UK Case Law Database (click on the link to the right of the basic search box) and search for the names of the parties.
     

Free Electronic Sources

  • British and Irish Legal Information Institute (BAILII)
    BAILII maintains a free online database of UK case law.  Although the interface is not as sleek and user-friendly as that of ICLR Online, the coverage is broader and includes case law from Scotland and Northern Ireland, as well as the Irish Republic, the Court of Justice of the European Union, and the European Court of Human Rights.  The search template supports both keyword and Boolean searching and enables users to restrict searchers to a particular court or date range.  Users also have the option of searching by citation and by party name (title).

  • Supreme Court of the UK
    All judgments rendered by the Supreme Court since its inception in 2009 are freely available for download in PDF format from the Court's website by clicking on the Decided Cases tab.  Cases are arranged by year of decision in reverse chronological order, but it is also possible to search by keyword.  For information about pending cases, click on the Current Cases tab.  Judgments rendered by the Supreme Court's predecessor, the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords (the "Law Lords"), may be accessed from this online archive, which covers the period from 1996-2009.  

  • Courts & Tribunals Website of the UK Judiciary
    The Courts and Tribunals website selectively publishes recent judgments rendered in civil and criminal cases. Both trial court and appellate court judgments are included, and most are available for download in PDF format. Coverage is limited to higher profile cases decided within the last three to four years.
     

  • The Digest:  Annotated British, Commonwealth, and European Cases.  INTL KD296 .E52
    This multi-volume set is the most comprehensive finding aid for UK case law in print.  The current edition is organized by subject and is regularly updated with replacement volumes and cumulative annual supplements.  It includes a subject index and an alphabetical table of cases, which can be used to look up a known case.  The Digest also functions as a citator, as the entry for each case includes information about subsequent case history.
     
  • Current Law Case CitatorINTL KD296 .C843
    This citator traces the subsequent history and treatment of UK cases decided from 1947 to the present.  Note that cases are arranged alphabetically rather than by citation.