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Cases: Finding cases

A guide to finding cases, both in print and online, in the IALS Library and further afield

Cases

Introduction

 

This guide is an introduction to finding case law at IALS Library. The guide includes guidance on how to find cases in print and how to find cases online.

Understanding Case Law Terminology

A law report is a published account of a case. Only cases that are legally significant are included in a series of  law reports. The same case can appear in multiple series of law reports or just one. Law reports can appear in print or online (or sometimes both). A law report can be full-text including the judgment, or it can be just a short summary. A publication that only includes summaries of cases is often known as a digest. IALS Library collects many series of full-text law reports and digests.

You may also come across transcripts of judgments. These contain only a record of the court's judgment and not the extra information that is usually found in a law report. For this reason transcripts are not considered as valuable as law reports and they should only be relied on if a case is unreported (i.e. the case does not appear in any series of law reports) . IALS Library does not have collections of transcripts.

Useful resources:

  • Practice Direction (Citation of Authorities) [2012] 1 WLR 780 (available on Westlaw). This Practice Direction sets out the order in which law reports should be selected for citation before the courts.
  • What is a Law Report? and Anatomy of a Law Report. Both published by the Incorporated Council of Law Reporting (ICLR).

The classification of printed cases at IALS Library

 

Law reports and digests are the main sources of case law. At IALS Library, printed sources of case law are shelved together with other material from the same jurisdiction.

All print materials at IALS Library are assigned a classmark. This is a unique combination of letters and numbers that designates what kind of material it is and exactly where in the library it is shelved. Law reports can be identified by the letter G in the middle of the classmark. Digests can be identified by the letter H in the middle of the classmark. Here are some examples:

GP1.G.12 Federal reporter, 2nd series 

GP1 = United States
G = Law report
12 = The law reports are shelved in numerical order

GD1.H.1 Australian digest

GD1 = Australia
H = Digest
1 = The digests are shelved in numerical order

If you are unsure of the location of the classmark in the library, check the guide Classmarks and the Location of Resources in the Library.

How to find law reports for a specific jurisdiction

 

Using print resources

There are a number of different ways to find law reports from a particular jurisdiction.

 
Method 1: Search by classmark

Run a search on the IALS Library catalogue for material with a classmark indicating it is a law report or digest from the jurisdiction you are interested in.

  1. Consult the guide jurisdiction page of the guide Classmarks and the Location of Resources in the Library to find out what is the classmark for the jurisdiction you're researching. For more information on classmarks and case law, see the section of this guide called The classification of printed cases at IALS Library.
  2. Open the Library Catalogue and click on Classmark to run a search. Enter the classmark for the jurisdiction and add .G to find law reports or .H to find digests e.g. to find law reports from the USA you would need to enter GP1.G.
  3. If you find something that looks relevant, note down the full classmark to find the series on the shelves.

 

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Method 2: Search by subject heading

Run a search on the IALS Library catalogue for material with a subject heading indicating it is a law report or digest from the jurisdiction you are interested in. Subject headings are assigned to describe all material in our catalogue.

  1. Open the Library Catalogue and click on Subject Headings to run a search.
  2. Enter the material type you are looking for followed by the name of the jurisdiction. The subject heading used to describe law reports and digests is "Law Reports, digests, etc". So an example for Canada would be "Law Reports, digests, etc - Canada"
  3. If you find something that looks relevant, note down the full classmark to find the series on the shelves.

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Method 3: Use an IALS Library research guide

Research guides often list significant series of law reports and digests from a jurisdiction. At IALS Library we have created a number of guides to help you research in our collections.

  1. Check the relevant Jurisdiction Research Guide, or International Law Research Guide if available.
  2. When you have the title of a series of law reports, run a Title search on the Library Catalogue. The catalogue record will indicate whether that law report series is available in print or online. 

 

Using online resources

Many law reports are available in online databases. IALS Library members can access a wide range of subscription legal databases via the Law Database page. For instance Lexis+ contains full text law reports from many jurisdictions including the USA, UK, EU, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. Westlaw provides full text law reports from the USA, UK, Canada and EU. 

If you aren't sure which database covers your jurisdiction:

  1. Use the jurisdiction filter on the Law Databases page.  Once you have a filtered list, read the description of the database to find out whether it contains case law.
  2. Refer to our Databases Guide.
  3. Refer to the relevant Jurisdiction Research Guide, or International Law Guide, if available.

How to find a specific case

 

Using print resources

If you have a citation for a reported case then it is usually straightforward to find out whether the series of reports is held at IALS Library.

  1. If your citation includes an abbreviation, the first step is to find out what the abbreviation stands for. To do this, try using an index to legal abbreviations, such as:
  1. Once you know the title of the series of law reports, run a Title search on the Library Catalogue.
  2. If your search is successful note down the classmark. The catalogue record will also indicate whether the law report series is available electronically on any of the databases IALS Library subscribes to.
  3. If your search is unsuccessful refer to the section later section of this guide called Finding cases in law reports not held in the library.

Using online resources

Many law reports are available in online databases. IALS Library members can access a wide range of subscription legal databases via the Law Database page. Databases that contain case law usually cover specific jurisdictions. For instance Lexis+ contains full text law reports from jurisdictions including the USA, UK, EU, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. Westlaw provides full text law reports from the USA, UK, Canada and the EU. 

If you aren't sure which database covers the jurisdiction you are interested in:

  1. Use the jurisdiction filter on the Law Databases page. Once you have a filtered list, r ead the description of the database to find out whether it contains case law.
  2. Refer to our Quick Guide to Key Databases.
  3. Refer to the relevant Jurisdiction Research Guide or International Law Research Guide, if available.
  4. Refer to the Databases Guide.

Once you have logged in to your chosen database:

  1. Select the relevant section of the database for case law searching and use the options provided to search for your case. If you have the party names or citation this is often an easy and reliable way to search.
  2. If you are unable to locate the case:
  • Try a different way of searching for the case e.g. search for just one of the party names, search by judge's name, date of judgment, court, etc.;
  • Check any alternative databases which include cases for that jurisdiction;
  • If you know where the case was reported, search for the law report series title on the Library Catalogue. If the title you need is listed, the catalogue should indicate if it is included on a different database;
  • Try using print resources;
  • Refer to Finding cases in law reports not held in the library in this guide.

How to find cases on a subject

 

Using printed resources

 

To find cases on a particular subject area using printed materials:

  1. Run a Keyword search on the Library Catalogue for the word digests or law reports and your chosen subject. For example, international law digests, arbitration law reports.
  2. Check the Subject Guides to find the name of key law reports for different areas of law. Often law report series will have an index that you can browse.
  3. Use the subject indexes of general series of law reports, for example the All England Law Reports.
  4. Check digests, encyclopaedias and case citators which list cases by subject and provide full citations to the series in which they are reported.

Using online resources

The Library has a wide range of electronic law reports available via the Law databases page.

If you aren't sure which database covers your subject:

  1. Look at the list of resources from the Law Databases page; the descriptions of each database will outline whether they cover any specific topics;
  2. Refer to our Databases Guide;
  3. Refer to the relevant Subject Guide if available;

Once you have logged in to your chosen database:

1. Select the relevant section of the database and use the search options provided to search for your case. Search by subject or keywords and type in words relevant to your topic.

2. If you are unsuccessful:

  • Try a different way of searching (e.g. search in the full-text instead of by subject);
  • Consider using synonyms and broader search terms;
  • Check any alternative databases which may include cases for that subject;
  • Try using print resources;
  • Refer to the section on How to find cases in law reports not held in the library which gives tips on how to find cases that are freely available online.

3. If you get too many results:

  • Try different ways of searching (e.g. instead of a keyword search, try a subject search);
  • Is your keyword or subject too broad? If so, consider using narrower search terms;
  • Try combining a subject search with a free-text search;
  • Consider narrowing your results by date e.g. last five years only.

 

How to find cases in law reports not held in the library

 

If you need to locate a case from a series of law reports that is not available at IALS Library in print or online, here are some suggestions for tracking it down elsewhere.

Look for the case in another library

Check one of the catalogues on the web which include the holdings of more than one library. You may need to visit another library to obtain the material which you need. Alternatively you may be able to obtain titles from libraries using interlibrary loan and document delivery services offered by the library at your own college, university or organisation. Here are some suggestions:

Library Hub Discover - to search the collections of many academic and specialist libraries accross the UK, including the British Library

Worldcat - to search the collections of thousands of libraries worldwide

 To locate cases for a particular foreign jurisdiction try the FLAG Foreign Law Guide database. This is an inventory database of the holdings of primary legal materials for foreign jurisdictions of academic and national libraries around the UK. Flag has not been updated since 2013 so any information you find here should be berified with the holding library.

 

Look for the case online

Check the Eagle-i internet portal to  see whether there are any freely available reports or judgments on the web;

Check WorldLII for links to freely available online reports and judgments

 

Checking if a case is still good law

 

Use a case citator or digest to check whether a case is still "good law". This will tell you:

  • if your case has gone on to be appealed to a higher court, and whether the original decision was affirmed or reversed;
  • which subsequent cases have cited your case, and whether the treatment given was positive, negative or neutral.

Case citators in the library are found in either the law report sequence on the shelves or in the digest sequence, e.g. for Canada look in GC1.G (the law reports sequence) or GC1.H (the digest sequence). Examples include:

GA2.H.7  Current law case citator
GD1.H.1  Australian case citator
GP1.G.102  Shepard's California reporter citations

Many of the legal databases available in the Law Databases page allow you to check the status of a case. Remember that different databases can indicate a different status for the same case. This is because deciding what constitutes positive, neutral or negative treatment is largely an editorial decision. It is always recommended to check more than one citator and to read the full law report rather than relying on the colour coded signals.

Note on the arrangement of the series entitled "The Law Reports"

 

In addition to the electronic version of the Law Reports, available on Westlaw UK, there are two sets of The Law Reports in the library, located on the third floor arranged in the following order:

(NB The # is placed where a volume number would appear. The [ ] denotes a year as an essential part of the citation, where volume numbers are not used.)
APPELLATE SERIES (spine title colour and reprint binding colour: LIGHT BROWN)

L.R. # H.L. English & Irish Appeals (1866-1875)
L.R. # Sc. & Div. Scotch and Divorce Appeals (1866-1875)
L.R. # P.C. Privy Council Appeals (1865-1875)
# App.Cas. Appeal Cases (1875-1890)
[ ] A.C. Appeal Cases (1891- )


EQUITY SERIES (spine title colour and reprint binding colour: RED)

L.R. # Ch. or # Ch.App. Chancery Appeal Cases (1865-1875)
L.R. # Eq. Equity Cases (1866-1875)
# Ch.D. Chancery Division (1875-1890)
[ ] Ch. Chancery Division (1891- )


COMMON LAW SERIES (spine title colour and reprint binding colour: GREEN)

L.R. # C.P. Common Pleas Cases (1865-1875)
# C.P.D. Common Pleas Division (1875-1880)
L.R. # Ex. Exchequer Cases (1865-1875)
# Ex.D. Exchequer Division (1875-1880)
L.R. # C.C.R. Crown Cases Reserved (1865-1875)
L.R. # Q.B. Queen's Bench Cases (1865-1875)
# Q.B.D. Queen's Bench Division (1875-1890)
[ ] Q.B. (or K.B.) Queen's (or King's) Bench Division (1891- )


OTHER SERIES (spine title colour code: GREEN. Reprint binding colour: BLUE)

L.R. # A.& E. Admiralty and Ecclesiastical Cases (1865-1875)
L.R. # P.& D. Probate and Divorce Cases (1865-1875)
# P.D. Probate Division (1875-1890)
[ ] P. Probate Division (1891-1971)
[ ] Fam. Family Division (1972- )

L.R. # R.P.Restrictive Practices Cases (1957-1972) (ONE SET ONLY - shelved with 1st copy)
[ ] I.C.R.Industrial Court Reports (1972-1974), then Industrial Cases Reports (1975- )

 

How to find unreported cases

 

The IALS Library does not collect transcripts or judgments of unreported cases in print. If you are looking for a UK judgment not reported in a published series of law reports, you can try various sources to see if the judgment is available online.

BAILII, the British and Irish Legal Information Institute, makes judgments freely available on the internet. Lexis+ and Westlaw UK also contain many unreported cases. Please note that only cases which contain an important point of law tend to get reported, and unreported cases are only available on the internet if a court has given its consent. If you are looking for cases from jurisdictions from outside the UK, try WorldLII or check the relevant jurisdiction guide for further information.