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United Kingdom  

An introduction to legal research in the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom
Last Updated: Nov 20, 2017 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates
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Last updated:

Laura Griffiths, September 2013


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This guide was updated by Laura Griffiths, Academic Services Librarian at the IALS Library.

Click here for Laura's full profile and contact details.

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    Constitutionally, the United Kingdom has four components: England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. Within these four jurisdictions there are three legal systems: England and Wales have a combined legal system, while Scotland and Northern Ireland have independent legal systems. The Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, although part of the British Isles, are not part of the UK, and have their own legal systems.

    Historical background

    Wales has not had a separate legal system since the Laws in Wales Act 1535, but The Welsh Language Act 1967 repealed an 18 th century statute that said any statutory reference to "England" automatically included Wales. Since 1999 there has been a Welsh Assembly which had limited legislative powers until the Government of Wales Act 2006, which transferred power to the National Assembly for Wales and gave it limited power to pass primary legislation on devolved matters, which were known as Measures. Following a referendum in 2011, this process can now be completed without needing the approval of the UK government - all subsequent Welsh primary legislation is known as Acts of the Assembly. Scotland had its own parliament until the Treaty of Union with England of 1707, which created a Parliament of Great Britain to replace the Scottish and English Parliaments. Now, since the Scotland Act 1998, there is once again a Scottish Parliament, which produces its own legislation on devolved matters called Acts of the Scottish Parliament. Ireland had its own parliament and laws until the Union with Ireland Act 1800, which created the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland . Then in 1920 Ireland was partitioned. Southern Ireland became the Irish Free State (afterwards Irish Republic) with a Parliament in Dublin, while Northern Ireland remained part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland . It had its own parliament at Stormont until 1972, then was ruled directly from London until the new Northern Ireland Assembly began to pass legislation in 2000.  There has been a turbulent legislative history ever since.

    The English legal system is described as a "common law" system. For a brief explanation see the entry in the Oxford companion to law . By contrast, much of Scots law (particularly private law such as contract) is based on the continental "civil law" system.

    Common law systems lay much importance on decided cases , with the allied concept of precedent , which says that lower courts are bound by the decisions of higher courts, and higher courts by their own previous decisions. The practical significance of this is that series of law reports (i.e. collections of court decisions) constitute part of the law itself, and are not just of scholarly interest.

    The other main source of law is legislation or statute law , which has supremacy over case law since there are theoretically no limits on the powers of Parliament.

    There is no single written Constitution. Constitutional principles are derived from a variety of sources including legislation, court decisions, customs and conventions, making the Constitution partly unwritten and totally uncodified

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    Statute law

    There are two main components: Acts of Parliament and Statutory Instruments .

    Acts of Parliament

    (otherwise known as "statutes" or "primary legislation")

    Draft legislation is called a Bill ; it only becomes an Act on receiving the Royal Assent. IALS library does not keep Bills. They are available at the Senate House Library, University of London, and at the Guildhall Library

    Acts are characterized either as Public General Acts or as Local and Personal Acts . Most often you can assume that what is required is a public general act. Local and personal Acts, also known as Private Acts , are not kept in IALS (except as now published in the series Current Law Statutes ) Most of them nowadays concern giving powers to local authorities in respect of highways, harbours and rivers, or to public corporations such as transport undertakings. Personal Acts are now very rare (only about 3 since 1960), but for instance until 1857 the only way to obtain a divorce was by private Act of Parliament. When cited, local and personal Acts can be recognized by the use of small Roman numerals instead of Arabic ones, e.g. London Underground Act 1992, c.iii.

    Scottish Acts

    These begin in 1999; IALS copies are shelved at FOL GA4.E.2.  See below for more details.

    Sources of statutes

    Two very important points to note :

    Acts and regulations are not listed individually in library catalogues. If you search for Financial Services Act 1986 you will retrieve records for books about the Act, not the main copy of the Act itself. Obviously not every Act has a book written about it, and even if it does, the book may or may not reprint the actual text of the Act. You have to look in the sources mentioned below.

    Both statutes and regulations can be amended (including addition, deletion or alteration of text) or repealed. You need to decide whether you need the document as originally enacted (i.e. as originally published), or as amended (i.e. as it stands today) .

    Official Chronological Sets of Statutes

    There is no Official Gazette in the UK containing statutes, as there is in many other countries. The London Gazette is an official newspaper for publishing government notices, public appointments, honours and awards etc. but not legislation. Acts of Parliament are published individually soon after they have received the Royal Assent. Depending on the length of the Act, they can range from a single sheet of paper to a massive paperback book. In IALS they are kept in boxes, at the end of the set of bound volumes at FOL GA2.E.2.

    At the end of the year, they are re-issued in bound volumes as Public General Acts & Measures. These are annual, chronologically arranged volumes of the Acts as passed .

    The official legislation website,, provides full texts of all public general Acts of Parliament  since 1988, and Local Acts since 1991, as well as selected content from 1801 onwards.  Most types of legislation are available in revised form on this website, including UK Acts, Acts of the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly Measures, Northern Ireland legislation, and Church of England Measures.  A small number of acts, however, are not available in revised form.  See the FAQs on the help page for more detals.

    Official Consolidated Editions of Statutes

    Besides chronological collections of statutes, there are so-called "consolidations". These can take two forms: (1) a collection of bound volumes with all the legislation in force on a particular date, or (2) a loose-leaf collection, with insertions of new Acts, removal of repealed Acts and re-issue of amended Acts on a continuous basis.

    The last printed source for the UK was of type (2):

    Statutes in force: official revised edition. HMSO, 1972 etc.

    This was in about 90 loose-leaf binders but has been overtaken by various alternative commercial sources. IALS retains a microfiche copy as it stood in 1996 (Classmark: FC36). It is only of historical interest.

    However, the UK Statute Law Database (launched on the web in December 2006 by the Ministry of Justice), the new official revised edition of UK legislation, has now been incorporated into This welcome and freely available database now contains all UK Acts in a fully consolidated format, as well as in their original form.

    Commercially published Chronological sets of Statutes

    There is only one publication in this category:

    Current law statutes annotated. Sweet & Maxwell, 1948-

    The IALS copy is at GA2.E.41 and begins with 1976.

    This is a chronological set of bound volumes like Public General Acts, but with annotations similar to Halsbury's Statutes (described under Consolidation below). It is part of the wider Current Law service (see section 3: CASE LAW). Statutes for the current year are issued in pamphlets for insertion in a loose-leaf binder, with Acts rushed out on blue/grey paper before they issue the annotated copy on white paper. Bound volumes are not updated except by the Legislation citators in the current loose-leaf service binders.

    SPECIAL NOTE: Starting in 1992, Current Law Statutes reproduces Private Acts as well as Public General Acts; there is no other IALS source for these. Acts of the Scottish Parliament are also included from the beginning, as are Welsh Assembly Measures.

    Commercially published Consolidated Editions of Statutes

    The statutes of England and Wales ( not Scotland) are published in

    Halsbury's Statutes of England and Wales 4th edition Butterworths.

    This is in about 50 volumes; the IALS copy is shelved at GA2.E.40.

    CAUTION: This is not the same as Halsbury's Laws , which is an encyclopaedia of English law, arranged by subject.

    Halsbury's Statutes is organized under broad subject headings, with occasional scattering of parts of Act that have mixed subject content. As with Current law statutes, there is thorough annotation of each Act. There is also a comprehensive loose-leaf updating service.

    Halsbury would be the first choice for anyone wanting a reasonably up-to-date printed copy of an Act

    Older statutes

    The Institute has earlier chronological volumes in the closed stacks covering the period back to 1225. However, they were all published in the 18th - 19th centuries, and anything already repealed or "spent" at the time of publication is not reprinted.

    The authoritative source for statutes from 1235 to 1713 is Statutes of the Realm, published officially between 1810 and 1825. The IALS copy is on MICROFILM at FM1

    Note also the United Kingdom Statutes database described below.

    Statutes: Tables and indexes

    For up to date information on paper, use the Tables volume of Halsbury's Statutes . There are official indexes and tables but they are published about two years in arrears.

    See also the three legislative "citator" volumes issued as part of the Current Law service (IALS copy shelved at GA2.H.7). Their main purpose is to list cases which have referred to statutes, but they also list amendments and repeals. They are updated by an annual cumulative supplement, while information for the current year appears in the loose-leaf binder with the Current law statutes at GA2.E.41.

    Electronic sources of statutes

    Please note that IALS subscription databases are provided for registered academic users of the Library, and access is normally available only on-site (e.g. Westlaw, LexisLibrary, and Justis).

    The official database has already been mentioned.

    Both LexisLibrary and Westlaw UK have "up to date" (i.e. fully consolidated) electronic versions of UK legislation.

    LexisLibrary has a quick search template for UK legislation on its welcome screen, and advanced search options on the legislation screen. This can search both statutes and statutory instruments at the same time, or a drop-down list of sources can be used to restrict the search to UK Acts or statutory instruments, Scottish legislation, etc. Alternatively, legislation can be browsed using the Browse tab. It contains all UK legislation which was in force in 1999, and all subsequently passed legislation.

    Scottish Acts and statutory instruments are included from 1999, although it does not carry those UK acts which refer only to Scotland. Welsh Assembly Measures are covered from 2008.

    Westlaw UK, has both a front screen search box and a "Quick Search" template for legislation. It too searches statutes and statutory instruments as one file, and you have to use the Directory approach to search specifically statutes or statutory instruments. It contains all UK legislation which was in force in 1991, and all subsequently passed legislation.

    Westlaw does have Scottish legislation, both before and after devolution. It also has English language versions of SIs made by the National Assembly for Wales, and Welsh Assembly Measures from 2008. Unlike Lexis, Westlaw also has a file of UK local acts from 1930 onwards. Also unlike Lexis, Westlaw also carries all Northern Irish legislation from 1991 onwards.

    The theory is that these databases are completely up to date - repealed matter is no longer there; anything amended is in its current form. However, the database should clearly indicate that material has been removed, and the SI which made the repeal. Westlaw also has an “historic law” function from its legislation search screen which tracks all of the changes to a piece of legislation and provides details of all the amending SIs. Sometimes, particularly with Lexis, there is a 2 to 3 month delay before material appears in the database, although Lexis in theory will alert you to the fact that changes are about to be effected to the piece of legislation.

    A United Kingdom Statutes database is produced by Justis. It is available online to subscribers on the website It contains all the statutes of England and Great Britain starting from 1235, whether repealed or not, and in their original state. This is an amazing achievement, giving great scope for historical research. A system of links allows you to check on earlier or later statutes affecting particular sections.

    Statutory Instruments

    (Otherwise known as "secondary legislation" or "delegated legislation")

    As their titles will indicate, the majority are rules or regulations made by Ministers of the Crown (i.e. government departments) under authority explicitly given by an Act of Parliament. However, they also include " Commencement Orders " bringing Acts or particular parts of Acts into force, and " Orders in Council ", technically a kind of Royal Decree. Most Orders in Council concern constitutional matters in Commonwealth countries. Until 1948 the generic title for Statutory Instruments was "Statutory Rules and Orders", although in practice they form part of the same unbroken series of SIs.

    Scottish and Welsh Statutory Instruments

    These began to appear during 1999 after devolution. IALS has them on subscription, the Scottish series being at FOL GA4.E.4 and the Welsh at FOL GA3.E.4

    Sources of statutory instruments

    Official Chronological sets of Statutory Instruments

    Like Acts of Parliament, statutory instruments are issued individually and then collected into annual bound sets in numerical, chronological sequence.

    Statutory Instruments 19**- IALS has from 1910 (with some gaps in the early years).

    Shelved at FOL GA2.E.60.

    Now arranged numerically, but until 1960 arranged by subject, so they had to wait to the end of the year to publish the whole set. UK statutory instruments are available chronologically on the website from 1987 onwards, with selected coverage from 1947.

    Points to note

    Bound volumes OMIT some instruments of local scope, though they are listed in the tables at the end of the year. Because IALS subscribes to the published pamphlet copies, we have some that do not appear in the official bound volumes. However, there are still a small number of others in the numerical sequence which are not published and are not in our collection.

    Legislation for Northern Ireland between 1972 and 1999, which was effected by Orders in Council (i.e. Statutory Instruments) is also omitted from the bound volumes. It was published in a different format with punched holes for insertion in loose-leaf binders. The IALS copies are shelved at GA6.E.2. Just to add to your confusion, there are of course also Statutory Rules issued by the government departments of Northern Ireland. We have only the bound volumes of these at GA6.E.4. Clues to watch for: The something-or-other (Northern Ireland) Order is a Westminster Order in Council and will be at the E.2 classmark, but The something-or-other Regulations (Northern Ireland) are regulations made by a Northern Ireland minister and will be at the E.4 classmark. (It depends where "Northern Ireland" comes in the title)

    Statutory Instruments produced by the National Assembly for Wales are similar to the Northern Ireland series in that they are given a number in the main series, but also a number in the "W" sub-series (or "Cy" sub-series in Welsh).

    Official Consolidated Editions of Statutory Instruments

    There has not been an official consolidation since the publication of

    Statutory Rules & Orders and Statutory Instruments revised to Dec. 31 1948 (3rd ed.)

    This is arranged by subject, with a Tables volume.. The IALS copy is at GA2.E.59

    Commercially published Chronological Sets of Statutory Instruments

    There is no such thing!.

    Commercially published Consolidated Editions of Statutory Instruments

    Halsbury's Statutory Instruments (Butterworths) 22 volumes.

    This is arranged alphabetically by broad subject like the Halsbury's Statutes set. There is an annual consolidated index and alphabetical list of SIs, and it is kept up to date by the usual loose-leaf supplementation.

    N.B. Halsbury's SIs does not reprint every SI; some are printed in abbreviated form, and some only cited, so it may still be necessary to look at the official HMSO set.

    Statutory Instruments: Tables and indexes

    As with the statutes, the official HMSO sources are about two years in arrears. They are the annual chronological Table of Government Orders to 31 December [year] , and Index to Government Orders in force on 31 December [year] published every other year. These are supplemented by an annual and then a monthly List of Statutory Instruments

    Alternatively, you can use (instead of the HMSO Table ) the Chronological List of Instruments in Binder 1 of Halsbury's Statutory Instruments , or (instead of the HMSO Index ) the Annual Consolidated Index to that set. These are more up to date than the HMSO volumes.

    Electronic sources of statutory instruments

    As mentioned above , the full texts of statutory instruments, starting with 1987, are provided on

    IALS has a fully browsable set of UK Statutory Instruments available as part of the Justis database. The coverage is also from January 1987, and in addition there are draft SIs, Scottish SIs, and a number of older SIs – some dating as far back as 1671!  Lexis and Westlaw UK also have databases of UK SIs currently in force, and limited holdings of historic SIs.

    Citation of legislation

    Citation of statutes

    The common way of referring to an Act is simply by short title and date


    • Financial Services Act 1986

    Long title: "An Act to regulate the carrying on of investment business; to make related provision with respect to... " (and so on for 6 lines!)

    • Education Reform Act 1988

    Long title: "An Act to amend the law relating to education"

    However, to find it in the official sets you need to know its chapter number (a yearly rolling sequence of numbers given to acts in the order they were made). Since the beginning of 1963, Acts have been numbered according to calendar year; before that there was a complicated system of numbering according to the sovereign's regnal year (i.e. how many years since his/her accession), but also by reference to the parliamentary session. Thus the official citation for the Children and Young Persons Act 1956 is 4 & 5 Eliz. 2, c.24. For more detail, see Dane and Thomas How to use a law library, 4 th edition 2001, p.59.

    Citation of statutory instruments

    As with statutes, S.I.s are numbered sequentially within a calendar year, but are designated by number rather than "chapter".

    The commonly used form is

    • Insolvency Rules 1986 OR 1986/1925

    and the full form

    • Insolvency Rules 1986 (S.I. 1986 No. 1925)

    You will sometimes see another number at the end of the citation, e.g. (S.16) or (L.10) or (C.20). These are sub-series, numbered so that you could file them together as a group. They mean:

    C = Commencement orders (bringing Acts or sections of Acts into force)

    L = Legal administration (e.g. court procedure)

    S = Scottish instruments

    But in practice you do not need to know these to locate the particular SI.

    Pending legislation

    For information on the progress of Bills through Parliament, consult the House of Commons Weekly Information Bulletin, available free on the UK Parliament website

    For easier and more up-to-date searching, however, the Parliament website has an official “Bills before Parliament” service which follows the progress of a bill through the Houses of Parliament, giving dates of the different readings and debate notes. Lexis also offers a similar service.

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    Case law

    General background

    Because of the system of precedent (lower courts bound by decisions of higher courts, and courts bound by their own earlier decisions), the report of a case however old can be referred to in support of an argument, or followed in a judgment, as long as it has not been subsequently overruled by a higher division judge in a different case.

    Law reports

    Law reports are NOT transcripts of proceedings in a case; they are the text of the judgment handed down by the court, with (sometimes) a summary of the arguments presented by both sides.

    Only the decisions of the highest courts are reported. These are:

    the three Divisions of the High Court (Chancery, Queen's Bench and Family)

    the Court of Appeal

    the House of Lords, to 2009

    the Supreme Court, from October 2009

    the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council

    Only a small proportion of even these cases appears in published series of reports. Other "unreported" cases may sometimes appear in summary form in daily newspapers (Times, Independent, Financial Times ) but otherwise they are only accessible from the Law Courts or through online databases.  Generally speaking, a case will have to involve a new or interesting legal argument, or overturn a previous precedent, to be reported.

    Decisions of some specialized tribunals such as the VAT Tribunal, Immigration Appeal Tribunals and Employment Appeal Tribunals are reported, but NOT generally those of the Crown Court (of which the Old Bailey is part), the County Courts or Magistrates' Courts.

    Modern series of reports

    The Law Reports

    The most important (and most confusing) series is actually called " The" Law Reports, as if there were no others! It is the nearest thing to an official series, but is published by the Incorporated Council of Law Reporting which is not a government agency. The IALS sets are at GA2.G.2.

    There are currently four sub-series of The Law Reports, three for the three Divisions of the High Court mentioned above (Chancery, Queen's Bench, Family) and the Appeal Cases, which report decisions of the House of Lords, the Privy Council, and the Supreme Court. Note that Court of Appeal decisions appear in the divisional series where the appeal originated, not in the Appeal Cases.

    Nowadays they do not use on-going volume numbering, but there IS sometimes more than one volume in any one year. Square brackets are put round the date to show that you can't leave the date out.

    (1879) 4 App.Cas. 197 = a case reported  in 1879 , which is in vol.4 of the Appeal Cases at page 197

    [1979] A.C. 371 = a case in the 1979 volume of Appeal Cases at page 371

    [1991] 2 A.C. 258 = a case in the second volume for 1991 of A.C. at page 258

    [1992] 2 A.C. 463 = a case in the second volume for 1992 of A.C. ...

    Since the series began in 1865 there have been changes of arrangement caused by the re-organization of the courts, and these are reflected in the way they are arranged on the shelves. This is NOT peculiar to IALS - most law libraries do it that way! A table is kept on the pillar next to the first copy of the Law Reports to explain the set-up.

    The judgments in the Law Reports are read through and corrected by the judges who delivered them, to ensure accuracy. This results in a 6- to 12-month delay in publication. To alleviate this the ICLR also publishes the Weekly Law Reports , the prime function of which is to act as an advance copy of the cases that will go into the main Law Reports on revision. But there are also cases in WLR which are never going to appear in the Law Reports . How do you know which are which?

    The Weekly Law Reports have been published in three volumes per year since 1953. Citations look like this:

    [1992] 1 W.L.R. 123 [1992] 2 W.L.R. 123 [1992] 3 W.L.R. 123

    [1993] 1 W.L.R. 123 [1993] 2 W.L.R. 123 [1993] 3 W.L.R. 123

    Again square brackets are used because the citation is meaningless without the date.

    Cases in volumes 2 and 3 are the "advance copies" destined for the Law Reports; the cases in volume 1 are less important ones which get no further than WLR. Things are further complicated in that each weekly issue is in two sections: some cases for volume 1, and some cases for volume 2 or 3, depending on how far through the year it is.

    It is because of this close relationship to the Law Reports that WLR are classified as GA2.G2A - a kind of "appendix" to GA2.G.2.

    Electronic versions of The Law Reports and Weekly Law Reports

    Both LexisLibrary and Westlaw UK have complete files of The Law Reports.  In addition, Westlaw UK has the Weekly Law Reports.  It is possible to set both databases to search through just ICLR material, however, if you  generally search the UK case file, cases reported in The Law Reports should appear as the first hit, and where a case has multiple citations the ICLR citation, is available, will be first.

    All England Law Reports

    This is the only other general series of reports, published by Butterworths since 1936. Citation is similar to WLR - 3 or 4 volumes a year and square brackets - [1975] 3 All E.R. 456. The IALS copies are shelved at GA2.G.3

    The All ER are also available electronically as part of the LexisLibrary subscription service.

    Subject Series of Law Reports

    The number of these is growing all the time. Some of the longest running series are Lloyds Law Reports, Reports of Patent Design and Trade Mark Cases and Reports of Tax Cases, but there are newcomers like Medical Law Reports, Environmental Law Reports and Entertainment and Media Law Reports.  All IALS holdings in this area will be detailed on the list of serials and on the catalogue.

    Unreported cases

    Occasionally we are asked for a case which has not been reported in any regular series of law reports. Until the LEXIS database arrived on the scene, the only source was direct from the court, or the firm of shorthand writers who made the recording.

    Lexis has made unreported decisions of the higher courts available as never before, but note (1) start date is 1980; (2) criminal appeals are not included. Westlaw UK also has a growing collection of unreported decisions from 1999.

    Remember that these subscription databases are not available through IALS to non-academic users.

    Transcripts of Court of Appeal CIVIL judgments 1951-1980 were issued by HMSO in 1986 on approximately 200 microfiches in 12 binders. The classmark is FC28.

    BAILII (British & Irish Legal Information Institute) is a non-profit organization whose sole purpose is to make legal resources available free on the internet. There is a growing database of British case law on the system. While it is not absolutely comprehensive, it has the advantage of bing able to post judgements very quickly, often on the day it was handed down, thanks to receiving a feed directly from the courts.

    The shorthand writers Smith Bernal have recently made their Casetrack database, which  contains over 80 000 full judgment transcripts from the Court of Appeal and High Courts spanning over 13 years, freely available to academic institutions. IALS academic library ticket holders can use this resource onsite at IALS.

    Neutral citations

    A system of case citation which is not dependent on any particular printed publication or online database was introduced by a Practice Direction dated 11 January 2001 [2001] 1 WLR 194, and extended by another dated 14 January 2002 [2002] 1 WLR 346. These Directions can be seen on the Court Service website.

    The system produces things like [2001] EWCA Civ 14 (The 14th decision in 2001 of the Civil Division of the Court of Appeal for England & Wales). BAILII would be a good first place to check for one of these.  Most of the big databases will now also accept a neutral citation as a search.

    Old series of reports

    Before the Law Reports started in 1865, most reports were compiled by individual reporters who gave their name to the series they produced, hence the phrase "nominate reports". The style of reporting has developed over centuries, but the eighteenth century was the period when reports in the modern style really began to appear. Most of these series are reprinted verbatim (but not in facsimile) in a set called the English Reports (GA2.G.1), first published between 1900 and 1932 in 176 volumes, and itself reprinted in the 1980s. To translate a citation from the original nominate (for example B. & S. or whatever) to E.R., use the Cardiff Index to Legal Abbreviations, an excellent online free resource for deciphering abbreviations. Alternatively, use Raistrick's Index to legal citations and abbreviations (3rd ed., 2008) of which we have several copies. Also, The Digest gives all citations to well known cases.  It is useful to note, about the English Reports, that each volume contains specific types of reports, rather than one long rolling alphabetical or chronological sequence. Eg: vols 1 – 11 are House of Lords cases, vols 12 – 20 are Privy Council, etc.

    Hein Online has recently added the English Reports to its service, complete with excellent browsing, searching and indexing functions. They are also now included in both the Westlaw UK and Lexis caselaw database.

    Some old series are also reprinted in a series called the Revised Reports , which is similar to E.R. except that it is unreliable. For example, sometimes only selected cases from a certain series are reprinted. Other series are not reprinted at all, but it is most likely that we would have the originals: look them up in the online catalogue.


    IALS library does also have the originals of the reports in the English Reports (at RES GA2.G.24 with the first three letters of the reporter's name as a filing mark), but in normal circumstances (including our photocopying service), the reprints will be used.

    English nominate report series NOT reprinted in the English Reports are shelved at RES GA2.G.14, again with the first three letters of the reporter's name as a filing mark.

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    Digests of case law

    or "How to find cases"

    Searching by case name

    If you know the name of the case but nothing else, the quickest source the case search on Westlaw or LexisLibrary. Both databases have very good case indexing and digesting services and can be very useful for locating a case without all of the information (e.g. with only one party name). Recent developments mean that you should be able to find summary details of a case on Westlaw even if the full case report is not carried. It is usually possible to also retrieve the full judicial history of a case from these databases, making hard copy 'case citators' increasingly redundant.

    IALS still subscribes to the hard copy series Current Law. The main function of this is to provide a monthly subject guide to developments in the law (mostly cases) which is cumulated into annual volumes. Issued as part of the set is a Case Citator in three volumes: 1947-1976, 1977-1988 and 1989-1995, which are updated by an annual cumulative supplement plus the monthly parts of Current Law itself.

    The printed citator lists in alphabetical order of case name, not only cases reported and digested (summarized) in Current Law itself, but also cases referred to ("judicially considered") during the period covered - this obviously includes cases before 1947. If an early case is not listed, refer to The Digest described below.

    Since 1950 the Law Reports has an index issued in April, August and December, and cumulated eventually into ten-year volumes. There is a copy at the end of each set of the Law Reports (GA2.G.2). Notice that it indexes not only the Law Reports themselves, but some of the other major series including All E.R., Lloyds and the Reports of Tax Cases . Note also that the volumes covering 1865 to 1950 are called Law Reports Digest ; they are now shelved in the closed stacks at RES GA2.H.4.

    Searching by subject

    For academic users, by far the easiest option is to use the case search function on Westlaw or LexisLibrary. It is also possible to search for cases by words on BAILLI

    In the paper version of Current Law, cases are arranged by subject in the yearly volumes, but this process can be very longwinded. For a more comprehensive search you need to use The Digest, which used to be called The English and Empire Digest. This is a collection in over 50 volumes of brief summaries (about one to two column inches) of all known English cases and a selection of Scottish and Commonwealth cases, collected from over 1,100 series of reports both current and extinct. It is in a subject arrangement with alphabetical indexes of case names referring to the actual volume, table of cases and an annual cumulative supplement. Broad alphabetical subject titles are subdivided conceptually (i.e. NOT alphabetically) with detailed contents lists for each.

    There is no electronic version of The Digest

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    Halsbury's Laws of England

    This should not be confused with Halsbury's Statutes mentioned above. Halsbury's Laws is recognizably an encyclopedia of law, with detailed articles written by experts. It is a good starting place for someone who knows nothing about a certain subject. Like the Digest it is in broad subject titles, each of which is divided up in a systematic way so that it helps to browse through the contents page for the subject you are looking at. Again like the Digest it is in over 50 volumes, with tables, index and annual supplement, as well as a loose leaf noter-up. A monthly digest of recent developments is filed in one of the binders and cumulates into an Annual Review .

    Halsbury’s Laws is available electronically as part of our Lexis subscription, and is an excellent resource for speculative searching for academic users.

    Other publications with "Encyclopedia of Something-or-other Law" as a title are mainly loose-leaf collections of statutes and regulations on a particular subject, though some of them also contain a certain amount of textbook-like commentary. They are handier for the practitioner to use than the general collections like Public General Acts, which law firms hardly ever keep. With the recent availability of free, official and updated legislation on the web (see above) these may become more and more obselete.

    Form books

    There are types of documents which lawyers regularly need to draft, and model versions of these appear in two major sets:

    Encyclopedia of forms and precedents , and

    Atkin's Encyclopedia of Court Forms.

    These are both published by Butterworths, in over 40 volumes each.

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    There are three main British legal dictionaries, each with a different format.

    JOWITT's Dictionary of English Law (3rd ed., 2010) is in two volumes, straight alphabetical order with perhaps an average of one column per entry. References are given to statutes and standard textbooks where appropriate.

    STROUD's Judicial dictionary (8th ed, 2012) in 3 volumes is more of a collection of terms as interpreted or referred to in cases or statutes.

    WORDS and phrases legally defined (4th ed, 2007) is similar to STROUD but uses direct quotations from reports or statutes. There is more apparent reference to Commonwealth sources.

    In recent years several dictionaries of specific areas of law have appeared. Note in particular Butterworths Professional Dictionary Series , which has volumes on Commercial law, Company law, Employment law, Insurance law, Shipping law (All at RF72)

    In some circumstances it might be useful to refer to BLACK's Law dictionary (9th ed 2009) but this is American and could be dangerous if the fact is not pointed out!

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    Text books

    What exists

    There is just one general bibliography of current British legal books:

    RAISTRICK, D. Lawyers' law books: a practical index to legal literature , 3rd ed. 1994.

    As mentioned above, Current Law lists new books and articles by subject, (1) at the end of each subject heading in the monthly parts and (2) at the end of the volume in the annual volumes

    International legal books in print was an ambitious project started in 1990-1991 by the publishers Bowker-Saur, and intended to be annual. Coverage, in theory all non-US English language imprints. The second edition, with 1993-1994 in the title but actually published in 1992, is at BB20.J.11.

    For older books, consult Sweet & Maxwell's Legal Bibliography (Vol.1: English Law to 1800; vol.2: English law 1800-1950)

    The catalogues of the major American law libraries can also be useful in tracking down older material. There are links from the IALS Eagle-I  to the catalogues at California, Harvard, New York and Yale, as well as the Library of Congress

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    Government publications

    IALS has as complete a collection as may be of the catalogues produced by Her Majesty’s Stationery Office (HMSO: the government printer, since its privatization in October 1996 called just The Stationery Office or TSO) - annuals back to about 1830, and forwards to the monthly catalogues and the weekly lists. At BB20.J.1

    A great deal of material is now published, not by The Stationery Office, but by individual government departments and agencies.

    Electronic Index

    UKOP is a very good web-based database combining both the HMSO/Stationery Office catalogues and non-Stationery Office lists (start date 1980: available onsite within SAS, including IALS).

    IALS is not a "depository library" for British government publications; we buy only material of legal interest. The Senate House Library, University of London, has a standing order for Parliamentary publications, but it will not necessarily have everything published by departments and agencies.

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    Journal indexes

    Journal articles are not catalogued individually in the library catalogue.

    The obvious index to use for British law is Legal Journals Index , which began in 1986 and now covers about 800 journals. Previously one of the databases on Sweet & Maxwell's Current Legal Information CD-ROM, it has now been fully integrated into the journal  database on Westlaw UK, making it much easier to search.

    The other two major indexes are Index to Legal Periodicals and Current Law Index . Both are produced in the USA and index mainly US journals, though the main titles from other English-speaking countries are also included.

    Index to Legal Periodicals has coverage from 1981 and indexes approximately 1,000 journals. It is updated monthly, and has an extremely detailed search interface. Earlier paper volumes back to 1909 are shelved at BB55.J.1

    Current Law Index (shelved at BB55.J.12) begins with 1980. It is in annual volumes with quarterly supplements. Note that we do NOT subscribe to the online version of Current Law Index .

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    There are several rival publishers doing annual legal directories nowadays. The main comprehensive ones we have are

    Waterlow's Solicitors' and Barristers' Directory

    Havers Companion to the Bar

    The Law Society's Directory of Solicitors and Barristers

    Glossier products, selective but with some indication of size of firms and their specialities are:

    The Legal 500

    Chambers & Partners: the Legal Profession

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