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Law and Legal Research: Finding & Understanding Case Law

Law Reports

According to the Incoporated Council of Law Reporting (ICLR), "A law report is a record of a judicial decision on a point of law which sets a precedent." In the UK, they are typically published accounts of cases heard in the High Court and Appeal Court (in England & Wales), and in the Supreme Court (formerly the House of Lords). Not all cases are reported, and "a decision is only reportable if it lays down a new principle of law" (ICLR). For more information on the definition of a law report, read ICLR's page at: https://www.iclr.co.uk/knowledge/glossary/law-report/.

There are many series of law reports, and the reports are either published in printed form, or available via online services, such as LexisLibrary. Some of the more authoritative reports, include The Law Reports and The Weekly Law Reports, both published by the Incorporated Council of Law Reporting for England & Wales (ICLR), and The All England Law Reports (published by LexisNexis Butterworths). Some are of a specialized nature, only covering certain areas of law; examples are: Criminal Appeals Reports and Industrial Law Reports.

Law Reports Online

Most reported cases and some judgment transcripts (or 'official transcripts') can be located in either LexisLibrary or WestLaw UK legal databases. Another good online source is British & Irish Legal Information Institute (BAILII).

DVDs

Reading Cases

Case Law: Updating and Currrent Awareness Services

With Law it is of paramount importance that you keep up to date with the sources you use and that the law you are referring to, both legislation and cases, is 'good law'.  Citators and alerting services can help with this:

Citing Legal Authorities

The Appeal Court practice direction of 2012 clarifies the practice and procedure governing the citation of legal authorities and applies throughout England & Wales, including the Crown Court, county courts and magistrates courts. Where a law report is available, particularly if the case has been reported in one of the 'official series'; e.g. The Law Reports published by the ICLR, it must be cited and referred to in preference to any other. (See Practice Direction (Citation of Authorities) [2012] 1 WLR 780

You can refer to tools which provide you with the list of law reports for particular cases in order of authority. Tools to look at include:

Westlaw Case Analysis documents

LexisLibrary's Case Overview database

Understanding a Case Citation

Individual cases are often arranged collectively in Law Reports.

To locate a case you need to be able to understand the citation.

E.g. Fisher v Bell [1960] 3 W.L.R. 919

The different parts of the Citation are explained below:

  • Parties contesting the case = Fisher v Bell
  • Year the case was reported  = 1960 (brackets are square if the year is important in finding the case)
  • Volume of the law reports in which the case was reported = 3
  • W.L.R. is the abbreviation for the law report in which the case is found. The full title is Weekly Law Reports.
  • Page on which the case can be found  = 919

Law reports can either be found online or in the Law Library.  Check the title in the Library Catalogue for the best source.

Legal Citations and Abbreviations