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United Kingdom

UK law, British law, Great Britain, English law

Quick links - Databases for UK case law


In 2009, the newly-constituted Supreme Court became the highest court in the United Kingdom, replacing the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords.  The Supreme Court is now the final court of appeal for civil and criminal cases.  The following chart, though somewhat simplified, shows the current court structure:​

The structure of the courts and the decision about the appropriate court in which to bring an action was not always as clear as it is today. In Knight v. Marquis of Waterford, (1844) 11 Cl. & Fin. 653 the plaintiff had litigated a cause of action in equity for 14 years. The court eventually dismissed the action stating that it should have been brought in the common law court instead. Since then the law and equity courts have merged.

From the thirteenth century to about 1535 cases appeared in The Yearbooks. From 1535 until 1865 the Nominate Reports printed cases. Cases from both these sources have been reprinted in English Reports: Full Reprint (KD270 1220.E53 1900). The Law Library now subcribes to a complete database of these cases, available from the Database Directory (see English Reports).  A complete table of cases is included in the final volumes. Selected cases are reproduced in All England Law Reports Reprint (KD288 .A6). This set includes references to Halsbury's Laws of England and also lists citing cases.

Since 1865 the Incorporated Council of Law Reporting (the Council) has published a set known as Law Reports (KD-call number varies depending on the court. Appeals Cases are KD275.4; Queen's Bench are KD277.7; Chancery are KD276.3). The Law Reports are arranged by court. They are read by the judiciary before publication and they also include arguments of counsel. In 1952 the Council began publishing the Weekly Law Reports (KD282.W44).  These reports are printed much more quickly than the Law Reports and do print some cases that will not be reproduced in Law Reports.

The Digest (KD296.E5), The All England Law Reports: Consolidated Tables and Index 1936-1992 (KD288 .A64), Current Law Case Citator 1947-1997 (KD296.C843), and Current Law Citator 1980 (KD296.C843) are citators for cases. The latter is updated in the monthly issues of Current Law.

British cases are now also available on the web.  See the HM Courts & Tribunals Service for the text of decisions from various courts.  The British and Irish Legal Information Institute has British, Welsh, Irish and Scottish case law (for most files, since 1996).  

The complete English Reports are searchable here. Transcripts of judicial proceedings are usually prohibitively difficult to obtain in the US; Sally McIaren has an excellent guide to sources.  

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