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English Legal Materials: CASES

A brief introduction to English legal materials and the resources used to retrieve known documents.


The recording of decisions began with the Plea Rolls, then the Year Books (1272-1535) which were published in law French. The Selden Society and the Ames Foundation have both published Year Books. Do keyword searches in GAVEL to locate these publications.

See Boston University School of Law Legal History: The Year Books for more information and to search the Year Books.

The private names reporters or nominative reporters (1535-1865) covered an extensive period of English legal history. There was no official system of court reporting and over 260 different series were published often covering the same court and the same period of time. The quality varied widely.

Comprehensive Databases

English Reports, Full Reprint (1220-1865) This is a 176 volume set with a two volume Table of Cases. When there were competing sets of the reports, the editors included only the version they deemed most accurate.

  • Print - KD270 1220 .E53 1900 Basement
  • CommonLII - Commonwealth Legal Information Institute

The Revised Reports (1785-1865) This 149 volume set duplicates the English Reports, Full Reprint but is considered valuable because it was edited by the legal historian, Sir Frederick Pollock.

  • Print - KD270 1785 .R48 Basement

Law Reports (1865- ) In 1865 the Incorporated Council of Law Reporting for England and Wales (ICLR) was formed and began publication of the Law Reports.

Initially there were 11 series due to the complexity of the judicial system by the mid-19th century. As a result of re-organization there are now four separate series:

Appeal Cases (A.C.) contains the reports from the House of Lords, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (a special court which advises the Queen on appeals from overseas territories, dependencies, and some commonwealth countries), and Peerage Cases.  Oddly it does not contain Court of Appeal Cases, which appear in the other three series.

  • Print - KD275.4 Basement

Queen's/King's Bench Division (Q.B./K.B.) contains the cases decided in the Queen's Bench division of the High Court of Justice and appeals to the Court of Appeal, and cases in the criminal division of the Court of Appeal.

  • Print - KD277.7 Basement

Chancery Division (Ch.)

  • Print - KD276.3 Basement

Family Division (Formerly Probate, Divorce and Admiralty Division) (Fam.)

  • Print - KD279.4 Basement

There is a subject index with case name tables called the Consolidated Index.

  • Print - KD285 .L39 Basement

The Law Reports are updated by the Weekly Law Reports. These are issued in weekly pamphlets and then in bound volumes.

  • KD282 Basement

All England Law Reports (1936- ) This is a commercial series and incorporates the Law Journal Reports and the Law Times Reports. Some cases are only reported in this publication.

  • Print - KD288 .A64 Basement

Earlier cases are in the All England Law Reports Reprint (1558-1935) This set includes about 6,000 older cases, including those from the nominate reports, and decisions not found in the English Report, Full Reprint

  • Print - KD288 .A6 Basement

Other Sources

    • The Law Reports (Appeal Cases, Queen's Bench, Chancery, Probate, and Family) (AC, QB or KB, Ch, P, Fam) (1865-), The Law Times Reports (1918-1965), The All England Law Reports Reprints (1558-1935), The All England Law Reports (1936-)
  • Westlaw - ALL-RPTS
    • Law Reports (1865- )
  • The British and Irish Legal Information Institute (BAILII) - includes several databases of low and high court decisions for England and Wales, Ireland, Scotland and the UK as a whole, including all House of Lords decisions from 1838-present in a free, online database.

Secondary Sources

Halsbury's Laws of England, 5th ed.
Halsbury's is an encyclopedia of English law, similar to but broader than the American encyclopedias American Jurisprudence or Corpus Juris Secundum. The set is arranged alphabetically by topic. Each entry contains a statement of law and citations to cases, statutes, and statutory instruments. There are consolidated tables of both cases and statutes cited and a thorough index. The set is updated by an annual cumulative supplement and a looseleaf Current Service.

  • Print - KD310 .L385 Basement
  • LEXIS - Monthly Review

The Digest: Annotated British, Commonwealth and European Cases (1981-)
This is a comprehensive digest of English cases from the earliest reported cases to the present.  The set includes cases from Scotland, Ireland, Canada, other Commonwealth countries and South Africa. The Digest is arranged by topic with a detailed outline at the beginning of each major subject and an index at the end of each volume. Cases concerning a particular aspect of a general topic are arranged chronologically. The Digest has a citator feature similar to the American Shepard's citations. Each case digest is followed by notes of subsequent cases showing whether the cited case has been followed, overruled, etc. There are also references to Halsbury's Laws.

  • Print - KD296 .D54 Basement

Other Sources

Proceedings of the Old Bailey, London's Central Criminal Court, 1647 to 1913

A chart of abbreviations for nominate reports: Justis' English Reports

"Researching English Case Law" Stephen Young, 12 Perspectives: Teaching Legal Research and Writing 13 (Fall 2003)

Some older texts are useful to understand the sources of English law and the rather complex organization of reporters and statutes.

  • Checklist of Reports Used in Compiling the Revised Reports, 14 L. Libr. 3 (Apr. 1983)
  • The Chief Sources of English Legal History, KD392 .W56, Basement
  • A First Book of English Law, KD661 .P55 1953, Basement
  • Guide to Law Reports and Statutes, KD54 .S93 1962, Basement
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