Guide last updated by Alice Tyson, July 2021
An official publication is a document published by an ‘official’ body, such as a national government or an intergovernmental organisation. In the UK, official publications include documents such as command papers, white papers, green papers, House of Lords papers, House of Commons papers and bills.
The main focus of this guide is on how to find official publications held at IALS library. Be aware that IALS is not a "depository library" for British government publications; we therefore only buy material of legal interest. If the material you need is not held at IALS Library, try the Finding publications not held in the library section of this guide for advice.
If you know exactly what you are looking for you can run a Title or Author search on the Library Catalogue, or a combination of both.
1. Go to the Library Catalogue and select Title or Author.
Enter the full title. You may omit words like "the" or "and", for example:
The law of international finance
law of international finance
The author of an official publication is generally the name of the organisation which has produced it, for example:
American Bar Association
International Law Commission
Official government organisations are entered in the catalogue under the name of the relevant country, for example:
Great Britiain Home Office
Ireland Law Reform Commission
Nigeria Association of Law Teachers
Once you have run the search, you can use the "Limit/Sort Search" option on the results page to modify your search to include, for instance, year of publication.
2. If your search is successful note down the classmark and use the floor directories or the guide to Classmarks and the Location of Resources in the Library to locate the item.
3. If your search is unsuccessful, try a Keyword search instead.
4. If your search is still unsuccessful, check whether the title is held at another library (see Finding Publications not held in the Library below).
A Title or Author search will only find those titles which have been entered into the catalogue as individual items. It may be that the Library holds the entire series of a particular set of official publications, for example:
ABA Section of Patent, Trademark and Copyright Law. Committee reports
In this case the individual papers cannot be searched separately on the Library Catalogue.
If the title is a UK government publication, it is also possible to search the Library Catalogue by command paper number. Enter the command paper numner in the Title search field, for example:
If you are not looking for a particular item, but would like to check the library's holdings for a particular subject, run a Subject, Keyword or Classmark search.
This searches across the controlled subject headings of each item on the library catalogue.
1. Go to the Library Catalogue and select Subject.
Once you have a search for a relevant term, you can use the "Limit/Sort Search" option on the results page to modify your search to include, for instance, year of publication.
2. If your search is unsuccessful, try a Keyword search (see below). When you have found a record on your desired topic, take a note of the subjects listed on the catalogue record - you can use these subjects for subsequent Subject searches.
This searches across the entire catalogue record, so can be useful if your Title or Subject search does not bring back any results.
1. Go to the Library Catalogue and select Keyword.
Once you have run your search, you can use the "Limit/Sort Search" option on the results page to modify your search to include, for instance, year of publication.
If you know the classmark of the subject or jurisdiction you may want try searching the catalogue using the Classmark option or searching the bookshelves directly. To find out the classmark try:
The catalogue will tell you where to find an item by giving a classmark or a location statement. To learn more about the classmarks in use at IALS Library, see our guide to Classmarks and location of resources in the library.
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.
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 the interlibrary loan and document delivery services offered by the library at your own institution.
If you need to locate official publications which are not held in the IALS library, try the following steps:
1. Search the catalogue of Senate House Library and/or the British Library.
2. Check the Library Hub Discover catalogue, whcih includes information on the holdings of more than one library. This will save you time as you do not have to search many separate catalogues.
3. Check the relevant Jurisdiction Guide (if available) as it may contain tips on finding official publications.
4. Check your jurisidiction on WorldLII, as more recent official publications may be made available online.
5. Check the Eagle-i internet portal to see whether it lists any freely available official publications for that jurisdiction on the web.
The freely available Foreign Official Government Gazettes (FOGG) database provides links to online official gazettes for many different jurisidictions. For European countries, the database also provides details of which libraries in the UK (including IALS library) have print collections.
The Gov.uk website offers a search page where it is possible to search accross all available the publications of ministerial departments. You can filter the results by topic, content type and date range. It can be used to find recent consultation papers, impact assessments, and policy papers.
The UK Parliament website contains much information, including bills, parliamentary debates (Hansard), committee reports and other parliamentary papers. A search interface is available to assist with locating parliamentary material on the website.
BAILII provides access to Law Commission Reports for England & Wales, Ireland, Northern Ireland and Scotland. You can browse them from the databases page or search across them by running an Other Materials Search.
For further details of printed official publications for the UK, please refer to our United Kingdom Research Guide.
UK Parliamentary Papers is a subscription database from ProQuest. It contains a number of modules, including House of Commons and House of Lords; some of the collections go back to the 18th century. IALS does not have a subscription to this database but some users may be able to access it via Senate House Library.
Public Information Online (PIO) is a subscription database from Dandy Booksellers. It contains many UK official publications, including House of Commons papers, House of Lords papers and command papers. IALS does not have a subscription to this database.