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Subject guides

Law: Finding cases

Library Guide for the Law School

Cases

Cases are judgments. Thousands of cases are heard every day in the UK courts. Those that have established important rules of law are published in the Incorporated Council of Law Reports (ICLR) series, The Law Reports. These should be cited in preference as they are checked by judges and are the most authoritative reports available.

Reading cases will help you understand legal principles and how the law develops. Cases contain decisions by judges about how the law applies in the circumstances of the case, whether it be reformed, what principles underlie the law, and how a particular case that was decided in the past influenced their decision. When reading a report you should ask questions such as, how do the cases cited fit together? Does one principle underlie them all or more than one?

Reading reports enables you to develop the skills to make clear legal arguments, apply the law in particular situations, in addition to keeping up-to-date with recent developments in the law.

Finding cases Lexis video

Law Reports

Law Reports: Appeal Cases (AC), Queen's Bench (QB), Family (Fam) and Chancery (Ch) are published by the  Incorporated Council of Law Reports (ICRL). Judgements recorded in this series are checked by judges and the arguments of Counsels are included. 

Weekly Law Reports (WLR): also published by the ICLR. Report the judgements of approximately 280 cases a year, cases which are reported in this series that have greater long term significance are republished in the Law Reports.

All England Law Reports (All ER): General series of law reports published by Lexis Butterworths. Cross-references are provided to other major legal reference works, including Halsbury's Law and Halsbury's Statutes.

In addition to the general law report series detailed above cases will be reported in subject-based specialist law reports, for example the Criminal Law Reports (Crim LR). Often cases that are significant to a specific area of the law will be reported in one of these series even if they don't appear in one of the general series. 

Unreported cases

Cases that do not appear in one of the law report series are referred to as unreported cases. Only a very small percentage of cases are reported in the law reports resulting in there being a vast amount of unreported cases. The transcripts of the judgements, digests and case notes of unreported cases are often freely available on the court website.

Precedent

Precedent refers to the judgment or decision of a court that is used to inform the decision made in subsequent similar cases. These judgments and decisions are usually recorded in a law report.

Finding cases

Finding cases in Westlaw video