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Information to help you carry out legal research

Case law

The decisions of judges in court cases are a primary source of law.  Printed series of law reports record some of these decisions;  law reports are also available on Westlaw and LexisLibrary.  The most authoritative series is The Law Reports;  another series with wide coverage is the All England Reports.


Reports are normally referenced by name and citation, covering the year, volume, series and page number, e.g.:

Carlill v Carbolic Smokeball Co     [1893] 1 QB 256

The name of the series is usually abbreviated.  Abbreviations may be deciphered using Raistrick's Index to Legal citations and Abbreviations (SL43) or the Cardiff Index to Legal Abbreviations.

Since 2001 all cases from the Court of Appeal and the High Court have been given a neutral citation, a unique citation which identifies the case, with reference to the jurisdiction (e.g. England and Wales) and the court (eg Court of Appeal), but is not tied to any series of law reports, e.g.

R v Scott (Leigh Peter)       [2001] EWCA Crim 8

The easiest way to find a series citation is through LexisLibrary or Westlaw.

Printed reports

Law reports for England and Wales are shelved at Law Reports and Legislation SE 69 in the primary materials area of the Law Library.  Within this area, they are shelved alphabetically by series title.  However, series such as Appeal Cases or Queen's Bench, which form part of The Law Reports Series, are filed under L, then alphabetically by title.

Early Reports

Many early reports, those from before 1865, have been brought together in the English Reports Series (SE69). The easiest way to find individual cases is by looking up the case name in the index volumes and then consulting the volume indicated. The English Reports are also available on the Westlaw and HeinOnline databases.