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The decisions made by judges in a court of law are a primary source of law. Unlike statutes, case law is dynamic and ever-evolving and is very much more about the interpretation of the law. It is important to study case law in order to understand the practical application of law to facts and to learn how the courts may interpret statutes.

Printed Law Reports series record some of these decisions; however, it is important to remember that only a small proportion of the cases heard before judges are reported in a Law Report. It is generally only particularly note-worthy cases - controversial cases, cases that establish or overturn a precedent, for example - that are written up as Law Reports.

Law Reports are also available on Westlaw and LexisLibrary. The most authoritative series available is The Law Reports; another series with wide coverage is the All England Reports.

Not every single case heard in the courts ends up being reported as a law report. Only cases of significance appear in law report series, cases that contribute to or influence the law in some way. It is estimated that only about 5% of cases end up as law reports.

Some cases may get a great deal of public or press attention, but may not involve any particularly noteworthy or important legal issues. Just because you have heard about a case in the news does not mean there will automatically be a law report for it.

It can be difficult to find further information on unreported cases. It is worth checking Westlaw or Lexis to see if there is a transcript or judgement available. BAILII is also a good place to check, as it often contains publicly available transcripts. Failing this sites, the only option for getting hold of a written account of the case would be in contacting the court in question directly for a transcript, although there is generally a charge for this.

You can use news sources to find information about high profile unreported cases, but use newspaper articles with caution - they often won't contain the entire story and may be presenting the facts in a particular way.

Finding cases online

To search by name:

  • Click on the Cases tab in the top banner and enter the party names in the Party Names box.

To search by citation:

  • Click on the Cases tab in the top banner and enter the full citation in the Citation box.

To search by topic:

  • Click on the Cases tab in the top banner and enter your topic in the Subject/Keyword box.

To search by name:

  • Enter the party names in the Case Name boxes in the Quick Find section of the homepage; OR
  • Click on the Cases tab in the top banner and enter the party names in the Case Name box on the Cases search page; OR

To search by citation:

  • Click on the Cases tab in the top banner and enter the full citation in the Citation box on the Cases search page.

To search by topic:

  • Click on the Cases tab in the top banner and enter your topic in the Search terms box; OR
  • Click on the Cases tab in the top banner, click the 'Add topics to search' link beneath the Search terms box and drill down through the hierachy of topics by clicking the little cross button on the left to find your area of interest.

BAILI (British and Irish Legal Information Institute) provides access to the most comprehensive set of British and Irish primary legal materials that are available for free and in one place on the internet. It can be a useful source of information on cases which may not necessarily have been written up as formal law reports.

It contains the key common law databases of all of the decisions of the Privy Council, many decisions of the House of Lords and the Court of Appeal, important courts such as the Scottish Court of Session, the Irish Supreme Court, European Court of Human Rights and European Court of Justice and tribunals, and legislation from three jurisdictions (e.g. Northern Irish legislation goes back to 1495). It also contains recent reports and consultation papers from the Law Commission of England and Wales and the Scottish Law Reform Commission, in addition to the Irish Law Reform Commission materials. 

WorldLII provides a single search facility for databases located on the following Legal Information Institutes: AustLII; BAILII; CanLII; HKLII; LII (Cornell); and PacLII.

WorldLII also includes as part of this searchable collection its own databases not found on other LIIs. These include databases of decisions of international Courts and Tribunals, databases from a number of Asian countries, and databases from South Africa (provided by Wits Law School).

Over 270 databases from 48 jurisdictions in 20 countries are included in the initial release of WorldLII. Databases of case-law, legislation, treaties, law reform reports, law journals, and other materials are included.

Finding cases in print

All case reports are referenced by the case name and what is known as the citation. These citations refer to the specific page and volume of the Law Report in which the case is reported; however, these citations are still used even with electronic databases and also enable you to identify a unique case from others with similar names, e.g.:

Miller v Jackson [1977] QB 966 (CA)

  • Names of the parties - Miller v Jackson
  • Year - [1977]
  • Law Report series, abbreviated - QB (Queen's Bench)
  • Start page - 966

The names of Law Reports are almost always abbreviated. For more information on legal abbreviations, see the FAQs or visit the helpful Cardiff Index to Legal Abbreviations for an almost comprehensive database of all abbreviations for Law Reports and legal journals.

Search the library catalogue for the name of the Law Report to see if we hold it in stock (ensure you search for the full name and not the abbreviation).

If all the details you have for a particular case are the party names and no citation, you will need to use the Current Law Case Citators in the Law Library.

These are dark blue volumes, covering 1945 onwards, kept on the shelves adjacent to the other parts of the Current Law series. Each volume covers a particular year, and the cases are listed therein alphabetically. If you don't know the year, you may have to check several volumes.

Once you have found the full citation for the case in the Current Law Case Citator, you can check the Library's holdings to see if we hold that particular series of Law Reports. From there, with the full citation, it should be straight-forward enough to find the correct volume of the Law Report and find the page or paragraph the report begins on.

The Case Citator may also refer you a summary of that particular case contained within the Current Law Yearbook for that particular year; these volumes are annual reviews of important cases from that year, summarised in brief and with further references to the full report via the citation.


If the case name begins with a single letter, such as R v Thompson, for example, the case will be listed at the beginning of that letter of the alphabet. This is especially common with criminal cases, where R stands for 'Regina', ie. the Crown.

If the case name begins with Re ('in the matter of') or ex parte ('the person on whose application the case is heard), this will be listed under the name of the person, e.g. Re Smith, look under Smith.

If you are looking for cases on a particular topic or subject there are a number of different texts you can consult in the Library to help with this.


Key textbooks on a particular area of law are a good source of identifying particularly important, noteworthy or precedent-setting cases.

Halsbury's Laws of England

Comprehensive and authoritative multi-volume encyclopaedia of the law in England and Wales, arranged by subject. Each entry will include a brief summary of the law for that area, including major legislation and cases.

Current Law Monthly Digests

Monthly digests containly summaries of significant UK cases, as well as information about new statutes and statutory instruments, amendments, commencement dates, parliamentary bills and words and phrases judicially considered.

Current Law Yearbooks

Annually-produced compilations of the Current Law Monthly Digests.

Current Law Case Citators

Annually-produced alphabetical indexes of cases for period indicated on the spine, with comprehensive list of citations in order of authority (Law Reports first, newspapers last).  

The following printed law reports are in the Library, shelved alphabetically by their titles.
The abbreviated forms of their titles are shown in brackets.
  • All England Law Reports (All ER) (1558-)
  • Annual Digest and Reports of Public International Law Cases (1919-49)
  • British Company Cases (BCC) (1990-2001)
  • British Company Law Cases (BCC) (1983-89)
  • Building Law Reports (BLR) (1976-92)
  • Butterworths Company Law Cases (BCLC) (1983-)
  • CMLR Antitrust Reports (CMLR) (1993-2014)
  • Commercial Law Cases (CLC) (2002-2016)
  • Common Market Law Reports (CMLR) (1962-2014)
  • Criminal Appeal Reports (Cr AppR) (1908-)
  • Entertainment and Media Law Reports (EMLR)(1994-2004)
  • European Court Reports (ECR) (consists of Reports of cases before the Courts of Justice and the Court of first Instance, Part 1: Court of Justice, Part 2: Court of First Instance and European Court Reports: Reports of European community staff cases) (1954-2002; 2010-)
  • European Human Rights Reports (EHRR) (1993-2005)
  • European Patent Office Reports (EPOR) (1979-2004)
  • Family Law Reports (FLR) (1980-2006)
  • Fleet Street Reports (FSR) (1966-2014)
  • Industrial Cases Reports (ICR) (1979-88; 1990-2014)
  • Industrial Relations Law Reports (IRLR) (1972-2007)
  • International Court of Justice. Pleadings, oral arguments and documents (ICJ Pleadings) (1947-82)
  • International Court of Justice. Reports of Judgments, Advisory Opinions and Orders (ICJ Reports) (1948-)
  • International Human Rights Reports (IHHR) (1994-)
  • International Law Reports (1950-)
  • Knight’s Local Government Reports (LGR) (1978-94)
  • Law Reports (1865-) Consists of Appeal Cases (AC) Chancery Division (Ch), Queen’s Bench Division (QB) and Family Division (Fam)
  • Law Times Reports (1875-1921)
  • Lloyds Law Reports (Lloyds Rep) (1960-2012)
  • Property Planning and Compensation Reports (P&CR) (1997-2007)
  • Reports of Patent, Design, Trade Mark Cases (RPC) (1950-2014)
  • Simons Tax Cases (STC) (1989-98)
  • Weekly Law Reports (WLR) (1953-)
  • World Court Reports (1922-42)