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.
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.
There are a number of different ways to find law reports from a particular jurisdiction.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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:
Once you have logged in to your chosen database:
To find cases on a particular subject area using printed materials:
If you aren't sure which database covers your subject:
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:
3. If you get too many results:
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.
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.
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
Use a case citator or digest to check whether a case is still "good law". This will tell you:
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.
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- )
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.