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United Kingdom Law Research Guide

A guide to researching the law of the United Kingdom in Tarlton Law Library.


As in the United States, cases in the United Kingdom, especially the decisions of the appellate courts, are a source of law.  Judicial decisions need to be reported extensively and accurately.  In the United Kingdom cases have been reported in one form or another since the Middle Ages.  The very early law reports are known as the Year Books.  These have been reprinted in modern editions and are available in Tarlton's collection and online.

The Law Reports

For a long time law reports were published privately by individuals.  These reports were known by the name of the reporter or compiler, and therefore are known collectively as the nominate reports.  Hundreds of nominate reports of varying quality and authority were published.  Fortunately, the many nominate reports were collected up and reprinted in a series titled the English Reports.  The English Reports are available in hard copy in Tarlton's collection (KD 270 1220 E5), on HeinOnline and on Westlaw

In 1865, the Law Reports began publication.  The Law Reports are the authoritative source for cases published there, and are cited in preference to any other law report.  The Law Reports are currently published in four series:

  • Appeal Cases (A.C.) (KD 275.4)
  • Queen's Bench Division (Q.B.) (KD 277.7)
  • Chancery Division (Ch.) (KD 276.3)
  • Family Division (Fam.) (KD 279.4)

United Kingdom Cases Online

In Tarlton Law Library, the best free online source for United Kingdom case law is the website called BAILII (British and Irish Legal Information Institute).  BAILII has files for the main courts, including the Supreme Court, the House of Lords, the Court of Appeal and the High Court, as well as for the courts of Scotland and Northern Ireland.  Years of coverage vary from court to court.  BAILII has a good full-text search facility.

In addition to BAILII, there is free online access to cases at the websites of the courts, as summarized here:

Both Westlaw and Lexis have files of United Kingdom case law, but they are far from comprehensive.  Also, Westlaw and Lexis are commericial services; access is limited to those with accounts.  Highlights of the content of Westlaw and Lexis are noted below:



Additional Sources of United Kingdom Case Law

Tarlton subscribes to one law reporter:

We formerly subscribed to the Weekly Law Reports, but no longer do because most of the cases are also published in the Law Reports.

Citing Cases

Table T2 of The Bluebook has detailed rules for citing United Kingdom cases.  For information on how cases are cited in the United Kingdom, you can consult OSCOLA--Oxford University Standard for the Citation of Legal Authorities.  

In 2001 neutral citation was introduced.  This is a form of citation that is independent of a particular publication, which makes it easier to cite cases that are published online.  Neutral citation is discussed in table T2 of The Bluebook (p. 481).  For help with deciphering United Kingdom case citations, consult the Cardiff Index to Legal Abbreviations online or Donald Raistrick, Index to Legal Citations and Abbreviations (4th ed. 2013) (KD 400 R34 2013, in Foreign Law Office).