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United Kingdom: IALS Library Guides

An introduction to legal research in the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom

United Kingdom

Guide last updated Laura Griffiths, February 2018

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

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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Wales has not had a separate legal system since the Laws in Wales Act 1535, but The Welsh Language Act 1967 repealed an 18 th century statute that said any statutory reference to "England" automatically included Wales.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


Legislation is published in a two tier arrangement: Acts of Parliament (otherwise known as "statutes" or "primary legislation"), and Statutory Instruments (otherwise known as "secondary legislation" or "delegated legislation").

Acts of Parliament

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 Acts can be recognized by the use of lower case Roman numerals instead of Arabic ones, e.g. London Underground Act 1992, c.iii; and personal acts by the use of Arabic numerals in italics, e.g. Wellington Estate Act 1972, c.

Sources of statutes

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 text of all public general Acts of Parliament since 1988, and Local Acts since 1991, as well as selected content from 1801 onwards. 

Alternatively there is also the commercially published Current law statutes annotated (Sweet & Maxwell 1948-). The IALS copy is at GA2.E.41 and begins with 1976. This series prints the statutes year on year as published, with the inclusion of helpful annotations and footnotes to various supplementary readings. Starting in 1992, this series publishes Private Acts, for which this is the only printed source in the IALS library.

Consolidated Editions of Statutes now contains (almost) all current UK Acts in a consolidated format, as well as in their original form - a small number of acts are not available in revised form.  See the FAQs on the help page for more details.

The last official hardcopy consolidation of UK primary legislation was Statutes in force: official revised edition (HMSO 1972-) which has long since been discontinued. IALS retains a microfiche copy as it stood in 1996 (Classmark: FC36). It is only of historical interest.

From commercial publishers, IALS library holds Halsbury's Statutes of England and Wales (4th ed. Butterworths). This is in about 50 volumes, shelved at GA2.E.40. This publication 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. Halsbury would be the first choice for anyone wanting a reasonably up-to-date printed copy of an Act.

Both the Lexis+ and the Westlaw databases are excellent sources for up to date UK legislation, containing all in force current UK legislation, with any amendments incorporated within 48 hours. Westlaw also contains historic versions of legislation dating back to 1991, and Lexis+ from 1998. Both of these databases can be accessed via the A-Z List of Databases.

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 at the time of publication was 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, and is also available via the database HeinOnline (accessible via the A-Z List of Databases).

The database JustisOne (accessible via the A-Z List of Databases) has a United Kingdom Statutes database which 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.

Statutes: Tables and indexes

Official paper sources are now very out of date. For up to date information on paper, use the Tables volume of Halsbury's Statutes. 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. Alternatively, both Lexis+ and Westlaw have excellent indexing and annotations available for the legislation they carry.

Statutory Instruments

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.

Sources of statutory instruments

Like Acts of Parliament, statutory instruments are issued individually and then collected into annual bound sets in numerical, chronological sequence. IALS has from 1910 (with some gaps in the early years), shelved at FOL GA2.E.60.

These are now arranged numerically, but until 1960 were 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.

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 in this way and are not in our collection.

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

As well as Halsbury’s Statutes, we also hold Halsbury's Statutory Instruments (Butterworths). This is arranged alphabetically in about 22 volumes 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. Alternatively, Westlaw has all UK SIs in consolidated format from 1991, with selected coverage from 1920, and Lexis+ from 1998 with selected earlier coverage.

Statutory Instruments: Tables and indexes

As with the statutes, the official HMSO sources are considerably out of date. More current information will be found in the Chronological List of Instruments in Binder 1 of Halsbury's Statutory Instruments, or the Annual Consolidated Index to that set. As with primary legislation, there are good indexing and annotations to SIs available on Lexis+ and Westlaw.

Pending 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.

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.

Citation of legislation

Citation of statutes

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

  • 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 (4th 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)


Legislation - Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland

Scottish legislation

The Scottish Parliament passed both primary and secondary legislation. These begin in 1999; IALS copies of the individually published acts are shelved at FOL GA4.E.2, and Scottish SIs at FOL GA4.E.4. Each act is designated an ASP number (Act of the Scottish Parliament) which is analogous to chapter numbers in Westminster statutes. Most (but not all) Scottish legislation will include in the title either the word ‘Scottish’ (e.g. Scottish register of Tartans Act 2008), or a Scottish place name (e.g. Glasgow Airport Rail Link Act 2007), or have the word Scotland in brackets at the end of the title (e.g. Arbitration (Scotland) Act 2010). However, be aware that Westminster legislation pertaining wholly to Scotland is also likely to have (Scotland) in the title, although in practice this is likely to predate the Scottish Parliament. Full access to ASPs is available through, and Scottish bills can be found on the website of the Scottish Parliament. All primary and secondary legislation, as amended, and also all Westminster acts relating solely to Scotland, are available through the Westlaw database, accessible via the A-Z List of Databases.

Welsh legislation

Post devolution in 1999, the Welsh Assembly began producing Statutory Instruments only. IALS has them on subscription at FOL GA3.E.4. Following the Government of Wales Act 2006, the Assembly was granted the power to make primary legislation on devolved matters, which were known as Measures until 2011, and as Acts of the Welsh Assembly from 2012 onwards (see introduction). A complete run of all Welsh legislation is available on, and all primary Welsh legislation is available, as amended, on both the Lexis+ and the Westlaw databases.

Northern Irish legislation

Acts of the Northern Irish Assembly begin in 1921, albeit with numerous gaps when the Belfast parliament was suspended. IALS copies are shelved at GA6.E.1. During The Troubles, the work of the Assembly was suspended, and Northern Ireland came under direct rule from Westminster, which was effected by Orders in Council (i.e. Statutory Instruments). Although these are official UK statutory Instruments, they were omitted from the annual bound volumes and published separately. IALS has these 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). A complete set of all legislation either made by the Northern Irish Assembly, or by Westminster pertaining to Northern Ireland, and all Statutory Rules issued by the government departments is available in clearly marked files on the website, and also the Westlaw database.

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 Lexis+ 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 Lexis+ 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 1967.

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 being able to post judgements very quickly, often on the day it was handed down, thanks to receiving a feed directly from the courts.

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, and are freely available through the CommonLII website.

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.

Case law - Scotland and Northern Ireland


Scotland’s judicial system has remained independent throughout its history, although the UK Supreme Court is the final court of appeal in Scottish civil cases. For further information regarding the court structure in Scotland, see the Judiciary of Scotland’s website. The main series of Scottish reports is Session Cases, which reports cases from the Court of Session (civil cases), and also the High Court of the Justiciary (criminal cases), as well as the Supreme Court/House of Lords. IALS has this in its entirety from volume 1, 1822 to present day, at GA4.G.2.  Another significant current series is Scots Law Times (1893-), published weekly and also held in full at IALS at FOL GA4.J.13. Both of these series are available in full via the Westlaw database, with some partial coverage available via Lexis+. Other current series held at IALS include Scottish Civil Law Reports (1987-) and Scottish Criminal Case Reports (1981).

The website of the British and Irish Legal Information Institute, which is freely available online, has cases from the Supreme Court, the High Court of Justiciary, and the Court of Session and Sheriff Court from the late 1990s onwards. Cases from the High Court of Justiciary, Court of Session and Sheriff Court from about 1998 are also on the Scottish Courts website. It is worth noting that certain significant judgments from the Scottish courts may be included in both the Weekly Law Reports and the All England Law Reports series.

IALS library holds various series of older Scottish case law in the basement and/or on microfiche, the most notable probably being Morison’s Dictionary of Decisions, and multi volume work arranged by subject collating decisions from the Sessions Court from the late Fifteenth century – 1808. This is now also available via the Westlaw database. Several older Scottish nominate reports are also held – please see the catalogue for more details. A database of older Scottish case law is also now available on the BAILII website.

Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland also has a separate judicial system within the UK with its own independent court system, although as with Scotland the UK Supreme Court is the highest court of appeal for civil AND criminal cases. More information regarding the judiciary and court structure in Northern Ireland can be found on the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals webpage. The main official series for Northern Irish case law is the Northern Ireland Law Reports (1925-), available in full in the IALS library at GA6.G.1, and on the Lexis+ database from 1945. Other current series include the Northern Ireland Judgements Bulletin (1980-).

The BAILII database has good coverage of decisions from the High Court of Justice Northern Ireland, the Crown Court for Northern Ireland and the Court of Appeal in Northern Ireland from about 1998 onwards. Older Northern Irish case law will be subsumed under Irish case law – please see our jurisdiction guide to Ireland for further details.

Neutral citations apply to cases from both Scotland and Northern Ireland as they do for England and Wales – further information can be found on the BAILII website.

Digests of case law

If you know the name of the case but nothing else, the quickest source the case search on Westlaw or Lexis+. 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 Lexis+. 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


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.



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

  • JOWITT's Dictionary of English Law (4th ed., 2015) 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.

Both Jowitt and Stroud are available to search electronically as part of our Westlaw subscription.

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 (10th ed 2014) but this is American and could be dangerous if the fact is not pointed out!

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Text books

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

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 BG20.J.1

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

For historic material, we have access to the database UK Parliamentary Papers, which includes Command Papers (1802-2004), House of Commons Papers (1715-2004), House of Lords Papers (1714-1919) and Hansard (1803-205). 

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.

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. This is now also available electronically via EbscoHost, accessible through our A-Z List of Databases.

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 .


The main comprehensive directories we have are

  • Waterlow's Solicitors' and Barristers' Directory (up to 2017)
  • Havers Companion to the Bar
  • The Law Society's Directory of Solicitors and Barristers (up to 2014)

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

  • The Legal 500
  • Chambers & Partners: the Legal Profession