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Legal History

Overview

English statutes can be found in both chronological collections (generally starting with the Magna Carta from 1215) and in subject compilations of statutes in force. Historically, statutory abridgements were also a popular resource.

The chronological collections resemble the U.S. Statutes at Large. However, English statutes have never been officially codified, so there is no English counterpart to the U.S. Code. Some publishers have released unofficial publications that organize statutes currently in force--including statutes that date back centuries--by subject, akin to the U.S.C.A. or U.S.C.S. For more on statutes in force, see Tarlton's English Law Research Guide's Statutes in Force page.

Statutes

Session laws:

  • Major collections:
  • Early English Books Online:
    • Database with coverage from 1473-1700
    • Contains earliest print collections of statutes, including:
      • Nova Statuta (1485): the first printed collection of statutes, printed by William de Machlinia
      • Collection of Sundrie Statutes (Ferdinando Pulton): first edition from 1618; later editions from 1632, 1636, 1640, 1661
      • Statutes at Large (Keble): first edition from 1676; later editions from 1681, 1684
    • For help finding individual titles, see Reference Aids listed on main page or consult with the Rare Books Librarian
  • Modern collections of early statutes: 
    • Ancient Laws and Institutes of England: KD 543 G72 1840 and Online
    • Early English Laws: Online (project to publish all English legal codes, edicts, and treatises produced up to 1215)
    • Laws of the Earliest English Kings: KD 543 A9
    • Laws of the Kings of England from Edmund to Henry I: KD 542 L38
  • Acts and Ordinances of the Interregnum (1642-1660):  KD 130 1642
  • Statutes of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland (1807-1869):  KD 130 1807
  • Law Reports: Statutes: Online (selected statutes, 1837-present) and KD 135 L3

Statutory Abridgments/Abridgements: see Reference Aids listed on main page or consult with the Rare Books Librarian.

Records of Parliament

House of Commons Parliamentary Papers: Searchable database with full-text version of the United Kingdom's House of Commons Sessional Papers, including bills (drafts of legislation), House papers (documents resulting from the work of the House and its committees), and Command Papers (government papers presented 'by Command of Her Majesty' to the House conveying information or decisions). Coverage extends from 1715, with supplementary materials back to 1688, to the present. This collection does not include parliamentary debates (Hansard) or the House Journal.


Hansard's Parliamentary Debates: Website with coverage of debates from the House of Commons and the House of Lords. From 1803-2005.

Interpreting English Statute Citations

The Bluebook T2.42 lays out the following rule for citation to British statutes:

<statute short title, where available>, <year(s)>, <regnal year(s) for statutes enacted prior to 1963>, c. <chapter number(s)>, §(§) <section number(s)>, sch(s). <schedule(s), if any> (<jurisdiction abbreviation if not evident from context>).

Regnal years follow this format:

<year(s) of reign> <abbreviated name of the monarch> <numeric designation of the monarch in Arabic numerals>. If the monarch was the first [or only] of that name, omit the numeric designation.

Example:  Supreme Court of Judicature Act, 1925, 15 & 16 Geo. 5, c. 49, § 226, sch. 6 (Eng.).

Here 15 & 16 Geo. 5, c. 49 refers to the 49th act passed in the 15 & 16th years of George V's reign. The regnal year runs from the date of the monarch's accession to the throne and indicates the session of Parliament held during the nth year of the monarch's reign.  You can find the exact dates of monarchs' reigns and a conversion of regnal years to calendar years using this chart of regnal years. Because Parliamentary sessions can cover more than one regnal year, you may see a statute that has two regnal years as in this citation. This means that it may be impossible to determine, from the citation alone, in which year a piece of legislation passed.

T2.42 goes on to provide of list of abbreviations of monarchs' names.

Tips on Short Title Citations

Some English acts have been given a short title, often including a year, by later legislation. E.g., a statute entitled "Declaration what Offenses shall be adjudged Treason" acquires the short title, The Treason Act, 1351.

The Bluebook states, in T2.42 on the United Kingdom, “If a short title has been established by the Short Titles Act or the Statute Law Revision Act, it should be used.” Ironically, the Bluebook, does not provide complete citations to these acts and there are mutliple Statute Law Revision Acts. However, the two acts the Bluebook appears to have in mind are the Short Titles Act, 1896, 59 & 60 Vict., c. 14, and the Statute Law Revision Act, 1948, 11 & 12 Geo. 6, c. 62.

Sometimes you will only have a short title that includes a year. When that is the case, you can use these same statutes to complete a citation in Bluebook style.

The Short Titles Act is available online through a GoogleBooks scan of The Law Journal Reports, volume 65. The Statute Law Revision Act is also available online through a scan made by the law library of the Law Journal Reports, 1948.

For more information (and for a list of short titles that do not include years), see Rutgers Law Library's Finding English Statutes and Cases guide.

State Opening of Parliament