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UK Cases: Key Databases


Most case-law is available in electronic format either on a subscription service such as Lexis or Westlaw, or more recent cases are available via free websites such as BIALLI & high profile cases on the Judiciary website.

What is Case-Law?

Cases are the decisions of the law courts and are known as 'judge-made' law. Thousands of cases are heard each year in England and Wales and only a fraction are "reported" i.e. published. As a rules only those cases that develop the law, its application or interpretation are included which means all Supreme Court cases are published, but only a small proportion from the Court Of Appeal, High Court and specialist courts. You may find transcripts of some 'unreported' cases but the remainder are not recorded at all.

Practically all reported case-law and some unreported case-law is available online but understanding how the printed reports are organised can help to understand the system of law reporting. There is no official series of law reports but the series known collectively as 'The Law Reports' which are published by the Incorporated Council of Law Reporting are considered as 'semi-official' because these reports are approved by judges. They are the preferred report to use in court,  contain arguments by counsel and are regarded as the most 'authoritative' texts. Other reports are published by commercial publishers such as Lexis/Butterworths or Sweet and Maxwell and these general and specialist (or topic based) series.

Many cases are reported in more than one series of reports; if you have a reading-list reference to, for example, the Weekly law reports but are unable to find the volume you require, you can often find other sources which will provide an identical report. There are two points to watch out for:

(a) Not all reports of cases give the full text of the judgement: those in, for example, the Times, the Solicitors' journal or the New law journal are merely summaries.

(b) If a case has been heard in more than one court, say in the High Court and then in the Court of Appeal, the various stages of the action may be reported in different series of reports, or in different volumes of the same series. Make sure that you have found the one that you really want.

Interpreting Case Citations

Most citations to case reports (and also many law journals) are given in abbreviated form. There are two main systems of case citations - law reports citations and neutral citations

Law reports citations generally look as follows:

a. Vandervell v IRC [1967] 2 AC 291

This is interpreted as the names of the parties concerned (Vandervell v IRC), the year the case was reported (1967), volume number (2), the abbreviated title of the law report series (AC = Appeal Cases), and page number (291).

b. R v Miller [1954] 2 QB 282

This is interpreted as the names of the parties concerned (R v Miller - all criminal cases in the UK are 'The Queen' (Regina) or 'The King (Rex) versus the defendant), the year the case was reported (1954), the volume number (2), the abbreviated title of the law report series (QB=Queens Bench), and the page number (282).

Neutral Citations were introduced around 2001 and do not refer to any one series of law reports but are aimed at making it easier to locate judgments on the internet. The term 'neutral' is intended to show that it is independent of any published report ('media neutral'). They look as follows:

Calvert v Gardiner [2002] EWHC 1394 (QB)

This is interpreted as party (or case) names (Calvert v Gardiner), year of judgement (2002), abbreviation of the court where the case was heard (EWHC (QB) = England and Wales High Court (Queen's Bench Division)) and a unique case number (1394).

The neutral citation format does not use page numbers as internet pages do not have page numbers. Neutral citations instead use a paragraph number in square brackets as so:

Calvert v Gardiner [2002] EWHC 1394 (QB) [2]

Finding Older Cases (Prior to 1865)

Since 1865 the Incorporated Council of Law Reporting has produced series of law reports in a standardised form. Prior to 1865 (between the mid-sixteenth and mid-nineteenth centuries) law reports were usually (though not invariably) known by the name of the reporter(s) or compiler(s) who produced them, e.g. Coke's reports, Durnford and East's reports. For this reason they are sometimes referred to as "nominate reports". The best source for pre-1865 English law reports is a modern reprint:

English Reports. 178 vols. 

This series contains the text of all the major series of nominate reports. The volume a particular series of "nominate reports" may be located in can be in Raistrick, D. Index to legal citations and abbreviations. 1993.). In addition, a two-volume index (vols. 177-178) lists cases in alphabetical order.

Alternatively you can search via the case name or citation using the subscription service HeinOnline or Westlaw (see link above).


Official Transcripts

Official transcripts provide the full text of the judgment of a case but do not contain any of the other information you may find in a law report (such as the catchwords or headnotes). 

You may find citations to official transcripts on your reading lists as many academics read judgments as soon as they are handed down, which is often before any printed report is published.

Transcripts are generally freely available on the web (e.g. court websites & BAILLI) and can be found on sites mentioned above as well as pn Westlaw & Lexis.


Websites and Other Sources of Case Law