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Legal cases, law reports and judgments (England and Wales)

Numerous resources contribute to research on disputing in the law courts. In addition to law reports, there are manuscript material, literary works, visual images, and other resources serve varied types of enquiry.  This guide briefly introduces some of the varied sources available at the British Library.


Introduction to sources

While modern law reports are the printed sources most commonly associated with common law legal research, an additional range of resources supports other modes of enquiry into disputes heard by the courts. These include original and scholarly editions of early manuscript court records, pre-modern law reports, private papers of barristers and judges, sensational and moralising accounts of criminal trials, judicial and other statistics, newspaper reporting, and doctrinal, practical, empirical as well as interdisciplinary studies of cases, judging, disputing and litigation.


Modern law reports and transcripts of judgements

Modern, highly systemised, law reporting in England and Wales began in 1865. Modern law reports are serial publications in which Barristers record the judges’ decision and reasoning in legal disputes heard in the courts. Generally speaking, only those cases that develop the law, its application or interpretation are included, with the consequence that only a fraction of cases heard by the courts are reported in this way. They are sometimes referred to as “reported cases”.

The most authoritative series of law reports, published following a rigorous editorial process, also includes parts of the argued case. This series, published by the Incorporated Council of Law Reporting is known as The Law Reports, and has been published in distinct sub series since 1865. The Institute of Advanced Legal Studies provides a useful guide to structure and citation of this series.

The ICLR’s Law Reports and Weekly Law Reports, together with LexisNexis(Butterworths) All England Law Reports are the three main series of law reports with general scope.

Numerous other series are published however. Most relate to special subject areas such as family law, patents, or criminal sentencing for example. The Bodleian Law Library provides a useful database. Enter “United Kingdom” in the Jurisdiction field and select “Report” from the Type options to see all titles held.

Transcripts of judgments that are not included in law reports (unreported cases) and transcripts of tribunal and administrative decisions are also increasingly available. These can be obtained on the web, from transcription services, and sometimes in archival collections.

Various methods of identifying whether and where a case has been “reported” and subsequently cited are described in guides to using law libraries and doing legal research. Electronic resources such as BAILII: LawCite and Justcite (available in the British Library Reading Rooms) are also useful.


Sources available at the British Library

Electronic resources

You can use Justcite to identify the sources in which judgments can be found. WestlawUK provides access to the full texts of selected law reports and to summaries of decisions digested from a much wider range of law reports.

For historical cases the library also provides access to The English Reports, the Revised Reports and scholarly editions of some of the earliest manuscript court records via HeinOnline. These sources are available in the Social Sciences Reading Room. A more detailed guide can be found at: Social Science electronic resources: Law.

Printed law reports 

The Library has a comprehensive range of English and UK law reports. Selected reports from other domestic jurisdictions and from international and European courts relevant to English and UK law are also held. Use Explore the British Library to find and request relevant volumes. Faster access to law reports is available via electronic resources.

Intellectual Property cases

These can be accessed in the Business and Intellectual Property Centre.  See  Intellectual Property Cases : law reports and transcripts

Law reports of International courts

European Court Reports (ECJ), International Law Reports and other sources relevant to the interpretation of international law in English and UK courts. See Guide to European Union Collections. For further information view Explore the British Library

Historical printed law reports and case papers

These include nominate law reports, English Reports, Revised Reports, All England Reprint, individual printed reports of cases, and printed cases in Privy Council Appeals.

Manuscript and scholarly editions of early law reports and court records 

Collections include: individual manuscript reports of historical cases as well as collections such as Bracton's Notebook, medieval yearbooks, plea rolls series (HMSO editions), Selden Society scholarly editions, and records of ecclesiastical courts

Private papers

We hold private papers of judges and barristers, sometimes including case notes

Sound recordings

Our sound collections include oral history interviews with judges and barristers.

Criminal trials

Accounts of trials and convicts lives in popular reports, pamphlets and broadsides

Visual Images

Photographs, plans and other images of courts and trials.

Literary works

Representation of legal cases and dispute management in literary works, and authors’ manuscript notes.

Academic analysis

Disputing and case law analysed in the academic literature of several disciplines and interdisciplinary schools.

Official publications

For example, those relating to the administration of the courts, legal aid, judicial statistics and more.

News coverage

Newspapers, industry news, and broadcast news coverage of legal cases.


Finding aids

Further information

Social Sciences Reference Service
The British Library
96 Euston Road
United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)20 7412 7894
Fax: +44 (0)20 7412 7761

E-mail: Ask the Social Sciences Reference Team