If you know the name/citation of the case
Every reported case has a title which is usually the name of the parties involved in the action. The title is then supplemented by a citation, which helps to find the case and shows where you can find the law report.
A really good place to start is entering the citation into the ‘Cases’ search of Westlaw UK or LexisLibrary (available from the Electronic Law Library).
Searching by subject
If you are searching for cases on a topic, you should start by using an up to date commentary (eg Halsbury’s Laws via LexisLibrary) where significant cases will be cited.
You can then update your search by using one of the major online datasets and searching using the case name to look for more recent cases that have considered the case. The main sources of case law are Westlaw, LexisLibrary and JustisOne available from the Electronic law library.
You can find many reports published before 1865 in the English Reports, a collection of various series of reports (also known as nominate reports). The easiest way to access the English Reports is to use JustisOne, Hein Online or Westlaw (on the Electronic Law Library). You can also find the English Reports on CommonLII.
Some cases are never formally reported. Transcripts may be available and a fee is often payable to the transcriber for this service. A guide to what is available has been prepared by the Inner Temple Library.
Citations normally consist of a year plus abbreviations, which lead to a page within a volume of a series of law reports.
The four parts to most citations are:
- date or year
- volume number
- abbreviation – for the title of the law report series
- page number
Some cases will have multiple citations which means they have been reported in a number of different law report series. The name of the series is usually abbreviated. Decode the abbreviations by using the Cardiff Index to Legal Abbreviations.
Which report series?
The hierarchy of which report series to use is set out in Practice Direction (Citation of Authorities) . The Practice Direction states that if a judgment is reported in the official Law Report series (AC, QB, Ch, Fam) then this citation should be used. If a judgment is not in the official Law Reports but is in the Weekly Law Reports (WLR) or the All England Law Reports (All ER) either of these should be used. For more details see sections 5 to 11 of the Practice Direction.
A tale of two citations is a short video produced by the Incorporated Council of Law Reporting (ICLR) demonstrating the reasons for using the most authoritative reports available.