Law reports are the written record of cases, including the facts and arguments of the cases, but more importantly, the judgments and the legal reasoning for those judgments. Not all cases are selected for reporting. In England & Wales, only cases from the higher courts will be reported*. Higher court cases chosen for reporting in print are those which set precedent or develop points of law. This means that not all cases, even from the higher courts, are chosen for formal reporting. However, since about the year 2000, the majority can now be found in transcript form through the main subscription law databases or via the freely available BAILII site. Earlier transcripts may be available elsewhere (especially through Justis), but the full detail of some cases is confidential (this applies especially to family and commercial matters). If you need a case report which can not be found easily via the usual sources (Westlaw, LexisLibrary. Lawtel, i-law, Justis or BAILII), please ask the Law Librarian.
Most law reports are now available online but it is still worth understanding how citations for law reports can be deciphered, as not all cases are online and not all libraries can subscribe to all law databases.
* Cases from Crown, County and Magistrates Courts are not routinely reported in the legal sense. There may be newspaper reports or journal articles commenting on them. In recent cases of particular public interest heard before lower courts, the Judge's full sentencing remarks may be posted on the Judiciary website.
It is common practice for legal materials, especially reports and journals, to be cited in an abbreviated form. When you first see these abbreviated citations they may seem alarming, but a few simple steps will lead you to the report or journal article you need.
You will become familiar with the abbreviations used for the reports and journals you encounter most frequently, but you will also be able to follow the steps in the attached document (below) to find other less-familiar series. Please note that the examples given relate to UK publications, but this abbreviated citation practice is common across the world.
When using legal databases you will usually be able to search law reports using the abbreviated citation. WebCat and DelphiS, however, will not recognise the abbreviated forms, so you will need to know the full titles to check our library holdings.
The most useful online tool for finding out what the abbreviations stand for is the Cardiff Index to Legal Abbreviations
You will also encounter Neutral Citations, e.g. EWHC and UKSC. These citations make it very easy to find the cases online, but have no direct relation to printed series of law reports; instead the abbreviation signifies the court. For more on neutral citations, see the second document below.
The Law Reports in the Hartley Library are arranged by jurisdiction, then alphabetically by title within each jurisdiction. The main emphasis is on English law, but other jurisdictions are covered. WebCat provides full details of printed holdings, but please note that we have access to many additional series online. The Rough Guide below provides more detail on locations for all law stock and the shelf-end notices in the law section provide full listings of the law reports on the shelves.
We do hold some printed law reports from non-UK jurisdictions, (see Rough Guide below), but our online resources are very much more extensive.
There are separate guides for International, European, Canadian, Commonwealth and United States law but see below for some general information on finding law reports from other jurisdictions .
Both Westlaw and Lexis Library contain a wealth of reports from around the English-speaking world, including Ireland, the USA, Canada, Australia, India and South Africa . Please note - these reports are not immediately accessible from the home pages. To access on Westlaw, use the Services tab, then International Materials.
When using Lexis Library, if you know the title of the report series you need, type the title into the Lexis 'Find a Source' box (see below).
If you do not know the title, but wish to check by jurisdiction, choose Sources, then Browse Sources and use the drop-down Country box (see below).
Justis also offers some case law from jurisdictions not covered by the main services, most notably from Singapore and parts of the Caribbean. Many countries now provide free access to case law and legislation, so it is always worth checking WorldLII's country listing.