United Kingdom Legal Research Guide

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

UK Case Law & Court Dockets

Table of Contents

Deciphering Citations to UK Case Law

For U.S. researchers who are unfamiliar with UK case law citations, the first step in retrieving a known UK case is to decipher the citation to determine which court issued the judgment and in which reporter series (if any) the judgment 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:

  • 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.
  • Index to Legal Citations and Abbreviations (4th ed.), Call No. 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.

Case Law Reporting in the UK

Compared to the U.S., relatively few UK court decisions are published in print reporters.  Generally speaking, only those decisions which break new ground, or which apply existing statutes or common law principles to novel sets of facts, are selected for publication.  Publication in a print reporter is thus a good indication of a judgment's significance, and judgments published in the most authoritative print reporters are widely perceived as having the highest precedential value.

Since born-digital documents supplanted paper documents in the late 20th century, it is now possible to retrieve the full text of a UK court judgment online before it is published in a print reporter.  Even if the judgment is not selected for publication, the full text is usually accessible online in PDF or HTML format.   This phenomenon has led to the emergence of "neutral" or "vendor neutral" citations, without any reference to a print reporter.

Most Frequently Cited Case Law Reporters

The modern system of case law reporting in the UK dates from 1865, with the establishment of the Incorporated Council of Law Reporting (ICLR) for England and Wales.  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 the heading Case Reports. 

Listed in the table below are the contemporary UK case law reporters that legal researchers are most likely to encounter, along with their corresponding citation formats.  Even though most UK case law research is now conducted online, and few practitioners still consult reporters in print, citations to UK case law are still based on these print reporters.

Name of Reporter Description Citation Format
The Law Reports This quasi-official series, published since 1865 by the Incorporated Council for Law Reporting (ICLR) for England and Wales, is widely regarded as the most authoritative.   The Law Reports is currently divided into four sub-series.  (See the following table for details.) party names, [year], sub-series abbreviation, page.
The Weekly Law Reports This series, also published by ICLR, appears each week in paperback.  Section 1 includes cases deemed worthy of being reported, even though they do not raise any new points of law.  Section 2 includes cases of greater significance that eventually will be re-published in The Law Reports. party names, [year], section number (1 or 2), WLR, page.
All England Law Reports Published since 1936 by Butterworths, now a subsidiary of Lexis/Nexis, this reporter series offers broader coverage of cases than The Law Reports.  Most practitioners consider the headnotes in this series to be more helpful than the ones published in The Law Reports. party names, [year], All ER, page.

Note that The Law Reports is divided into four sub-series, which have changed over time.  The current sub-series of The Law Reports, along with their abbreviations, are listed in the table below.  The relevant sub-series abbreviation should be included when citing to a case published in The Law Reports.  For prior sub-series of The Law Reports and their abbreviations, consult this page of the ICLR website. 

Current Sub-Series of The Law Reports (1972-present) Abbreviation Description
Appeals Cases AC Publishes decisions issued by the Supreme Court of the UK and by the Court of Appeal, as well as appellate decisions issued by the High Court of Justice.
Chancery Division Cases Ch Publishes trial level decisions issued by the Chancery Division of the High Court of Justice, which hears cases involving the governance of business entities, insolvency, trust law, and matters of equity.
King's Bench Cases
(Queen's Bench Cases)
Publishes trial level decisions issued by the King's Bench Division of the High Court of Justice, which hears civil cases in all matters not assigned to the Chancery Division or to the Family Division.  Note that this division is known as the Queen's Bench (QB) when there is a female monarch.
Family Division Cases Fam Publishes trial level decisions issued by the Family Division of the High Court of Justice, which hears cases involving marriage, children, medical treatment, wills, and probate matters.

In addition to the reporters described above, there are dozens of specialized reporters published by commercial vendors that focus on judgments pertaining to a particular subject matter.  As in the United States, it is not unusual for a judgment to be published in more than one reporter series.

Cases published in print reporters include editorial enhancements provided by the publisher that will help you to understand the court's decision.  These editorial enhancements include factual summaries and procedural histories, headnotes that summarize each point of law discussed in the court's opinion, a summary of the holding(s), and a list of prior cases and statutes cited by the court.

Citations should be made to the most authoritative reporter in which a judgment is published, with a clear preference given to The Law Reports if the case was published therein, followed by the The Weekly Law Reports and the All England Law Reports.  If the judgment in question was not published in any of the three reporters described above, it is appropriate to cite to a specialized (subject-specific) reporter series, if the judgment was published therein.

Unreported Judgments & Neutral Citations

With the advent of born-digital file formats, it is now possible to access unreported UK court judgments from online legal research platforms before they are published in print reporters.  To facilitate citations to judgments not yet published in print, or which may never be published in print, the UK courts have adopted a system of neutral case citation for all judgments issued from 2001 onward.  Neutral case citations are formatted as follows:

Claimant/Applicant Name v Defendant/Respondent Name   [Year]   Court Abbreviation   Judgment Number

For unreported judgments issued by the High Court of England and Wales, the judgment number is followed by the abbreviation of the division of the High Court that issued the decision in parentheses.  To quickly identify the name of the court in a neutral citation, consult this list of court abbreviations maintained by the British and Irish Legal Information Institute (BAILII).

For judgments issued from 2001 onward that have been published in one or more print reporters, begin with the neutral citation, followed by the report of the judgment published in the most authoritative print reporter.  Thus the following judgment, issued by the UK Supreme Court in 2011 and published in volume 2 of the 2011 edition of the Appeals Cases sub-series of The Law Reports beginning at page 398, would be cited as follows:

Jones v Kaney [2011] UKSC 13, [2011]2 AC 398

For more details about the system of law reporting in the UK, consult this informational webpage maintained by the Faculty of Law at Oxford University. 

Subscription Databases for UK Case Law

  • ICLR Online
    This subscription database provides electronic access to cases published in the quasi-official Law Reports (1865-present) and Weekly Law Reports (1953-present), as well as in the following specialized reporter series:  The Business Law Reports (company, commercial, and IP cases), The Industrial Cases Reports (employment, discrimination, and pension cases) and The Public and Third Sector Law Reports (adoption, charity, ecclesiastical, education, and local government cases).  For cases whose judgments are not reported in full, summaries are provided.

    • Basic Search -- Enter one or more keywords or party names in the search box near the top of the homepage.  Click on the "Search Help" link 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 -- In addition to providing the subsequent appellate history of a case, ICLR Online's citator identifies all subsequent cases that have cited the court's opinion ("subsequent consideration"), as well as prior cases ("cases considered") and legislation ("legislation considered") that are cited within the court's opinion.  To display this information, click on the case caption (party names) of the desired case in the list of search results.

  • vlexJustis
    This subscription database allows you search the full texts of texts of judgments issued by the UK Supreme Court and by the courts of England and Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. 

    • Search Options -- Enter your search terms in the appropriate box to search for cases that contain all of the words entered, to search for cases that contain an exact phrase, for cases in which the search terms appear in close proximity to one another, or for cases that contain one or more synonymous terms (any words).  To connect search terms using Boolean operators (AND, OR, NOT, /N), enter them in the Advanced Operators search box..

    • Search Filters -- To search for a known case by citation or by case name, scroll down below the guided search boxes to the search filter section and enter the citation or the case name in the appropriate box.  Use the remaining filters to limit searches by court, by judge, by category (subject), by reporter series, by authorities cited, or by date.

    • Citator -- After opening the full text of a judgment, select "Cited Authorities" from the citator menu near the top of the page to display a list of prior cases and legislation cited in the court's opinion.  Select "Cited In" to display a list of subsequent cases that have cited the court's opinion.

  • Lexis (United Kingdom Materials)
    Lexis provides access to cases published in The All England Law Reports , the Scottish Civil Law Reports, the Northern Ireland Reports, and in dozens of subject-specific reporters (dates of coverage vary).  To search broadly across all available reporters, use the All United Kingdom Cases database or select a specific reporter from the list below the search box.  To search by citation for a known case, click on the link to the Advanced Search above the basic search box and then scroll down to the citation search template after the page refreshes.

  • Westlaw (United Kingdom Resources)
    Westlaw's United Kingdom Cases database includes cases published in dozens of subject-specific case law reporters (dates of coverage vary), as well as historical cases published in The English Reports (covering the period from 1220 to 1865).  Westlaw also offers a UK case law citator (UK Case Law Locator) that will help you to determine if a particular case is still good law.

  • Note that The Law Reports and The Weekly Law Reports are no longer available on Lexis and Westlaw.  If you have a citation to a case published in one of these quasi-official reporters, the best option for retrieving the case on Lexis or on Westlaw is to open the Advanced Search template and search for the names of the parties.  Ask a librarian if you need assistance.


Free Electronic Sources for UK Case Law

  • 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 case law 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).

  • Find Case Law
    This free database, maintained by the UK National Archives, enables you to search by keyword across the full texts of judgments issued by the UK Supreme Court, the higher courts of England and Wales, and by selected subject-specific tribunals.  There is no coverage of case law from Scotland or Northern Ireland.  Use quotation marks to search for exact phrases.  The interface interprets spaces between words and exact phrase as the Boolean operator AND.  Use the structured search interface to search within specific fields (party name, judge's name or neutral citation) and to filter searches by court and by date.  Visit this page for additional information, including dates of coverage by court.

  • 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 Decided Cases page of the Court's website.  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, visit the Current Cases page.  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 (Judiciary of England & Wales)
    The Courts and Tribunals website selectively publishes recent judgments rendered in civil and criminal cases in England and Wales.  Both trial and appellate court judgments are included.  Most are available for download in PDF format. Coverage is limited to higher profile cases decided within the last three to four years.

  • Scottish Courts & Tribunals Website
    Provides access to selected recent judgments issued by various courts and tribunals in Scotland.  Scroll down to select the desired court or tribunal.  After the page refreshes, browse chronologically or search by keyword.


  • The Digest:  Annotated British, Commonwealth, and European Cases, Call No. 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 Citator, Call No. 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 (by party names) rather than by citation.

Electronic Access to UK Court Dockets

A docket provides a comprehensive list of all documents (pleadings, motions, orders, judgments, etc) filed in a court case.  Use the resources described below to view electronic dockets for selected UK courts.  Bear in mind that some UK courts do not yet require electronic filing, and that many courts have adopted mandatory electronic filing only recently.  As a result, the availability of electronic dockets varies by court, as do the dates of coverage.

View Electronic Dockets and Download Documents Filed in Court

  • CE-File (Her Majesty's Courts & Tribunals E-Filing Service)
    To search the electronic dockets of multiple UK courts, you must register as a public user of the e-fling platform by filling out this online form.  Although it is free to search the platform and to view electronic dockets in your browser, you will incur a charge to download each document.  For more information, visit this UK government webpage and review this guide to searching and requesting office copies for public users.
  • Bloomberg Law Dockets
    Bloomberg Law provides U.S. academic subscribers with limited access to electronic dockets for selected UK courts.  Using the Bloomberg Law Dockets search form, scroll down to the Courts section and select International Dockets.  Then drill down to select one or more of the following courts:
    • Court of Appeal of England & Wales (Civil Division only)
    • High Court Justice of England & Wales (Chancery and Queen's Bench divisions)
    • UK Competition Appeal Tribunal 

Note:  As of August 1, 2019, Bloomberg Law is no longer updating UK electronic dockets.  For some cases, documents filed electronically prior to that date may still accessible to U.S. academic subscribers.  For other cases, you will see only a list of docket entries, but no links for downloading individual documents.

View Electronic Dockets (No Document Download)

  • UK Courts and Tribunals Dockets
    Westlaw enables U.S. subscribers to view dockets for cases filed in the King's Bench Division (formerly known as the Queen's Bench Division from 1952-2022) and Chancery Division of the High Court of Justice of England and Wales.  Docket entries are updated every 30 days for two years after the initial filing date.  To update docket entries on demand, click on the "check for new updates" link.   Users may create email alerts to track new filings in specific cases or to track new litigation involving a specific litigant.  Note that the documents filed in court that are listed as docket entries are not available for download on Westlaw.