Because English judges have always given their decisions orally and the English court system has never published official reports, case reporting has been done in a very haphazard manner. Anyone can sit in court, take notes, and then publish his reports. This has produced vast quantities of "nominate reports" of varying quality. To rectify this situation, in 1865 the Incorporated Council of Law Reporting began publishing the Law Reports. They are now accepted as the most authoritative and preferably cited case reports. While there are other more timely reports, the All England Law Reports for example, they are not considered to be authoritative and should only be cited when a Law Reports version is unavailable.
The most complete book on how to do research in English material is How To Use a Law Library. Also very useful is Legal Research: Materials and Methods which is written for Australian law students but has extensive sections on English law. Chapters on English legal research can also be found in Fundamentals of Legal Research and Effective Legal Research. To find lists of English reports and their abbreviations use Osborn's Concise Law Dictionary, the Manual of Legal Citations, or Sweet & Maxwell's Guide To Law Reports and Statutes. For a general introduction to English law, try Learning the Law. For specialized British legal research, use Information Sources in Law.
Cases since 1865
The Law Reports were originally published in eleven series following the court structure of 1865. As the court structure has changed, so have the Reports so that now there are four series: Appeal Cases, Chancery Division, Queen's Bench Division, and Family Division. The citation abbreviations have changed along with the court structure. For a list of what an abbreviation stands for and the years covered by each series, look in the appendix to Osborn's Concise Law Dictionary, the Manual of Legal Citations, or Sweet & Maxwell's Guide to Law Reports and Statutes.
The law library also has the Law Journal Reports, Law Times Reports, the Times Law Reports, Cox's Criminal Law Cases, and Criminal Appeal Reports. These reports contain some cases which were not included in the Law Reports. For the most recent cases, check the All England Law Reports, the Weekly Law Reports, and the two weekly law journals, the New Law Journal and the Solicitor's Journal which publish summaries or full reprints of important cases. The Weekly Law Reports is published by the Incorporated Council of Law Reporting; it is a faster, if less precise, reporting of the cases and does not include the arguments of counsel that will appear in the Law Reports. The first volume of each year contains cases which are considered by the editors to be less significant than those in other volumes for the year. The cases reported in the remaining volumes will be published in their final form in the Law Reports.
Cases before 1865
The most authoritative versions of the "nominate reports" have been reprinted in two sets: the English Reports: Full Reprint and the Revised Reports. To find a case reprint in these reports when you have only the citation, first look up the report's abbreviation in the appendix of Osborn's Concise Law Dictionary. The table will give you the full name of the reports and the volumes of the English Reports or Revised Reports is which the reports are reprinted. There is also a table of cases at the end of both sets. Remember to check alternate spellings since many cases were originally reported in several different "nominate reports" and the spellings of names were not always the same.
A full reprint of English Reports, 1220-1867 is available on HeinOnline. HeinOnline can be accessed through links on BEN or the Library Resource page on ANGEL.
The library also has microfilm copies of "nominate reports" which were not reprinted in the English Reports or the Revised Reports in several sets: the English Reports, pre-1865, British Ruling Cases, English Ruling Cases, Irish Law Reports, pre-1865, and Scottish Law Reports, pre-1865. For a reel guide to these sets, ask at the Reference Desk.
To find cases by subject
The Digest, formerly The English and Empire Digest, indexes and abstracts case law of England, the Commonwealth, and the European Communities.
To find case law by subject, first look in the Consolidated Index to The Digest. It will refer you to a volume, subject title, page, and case numbers. Each entry includes a digest of the opinion, the full citation, and any case history as of the publication date of the volume. To find further case history and more cases on the subject, check the annual Cumulative Supplement under the same subject title and case number.
To find cases by case name
To find a case when you only have its name, start with the Current Law Case Citator. The Citator covers all cases decided or discussed since 1947. Cases are listed alphabetically by case name, and each entry includes the full case name, any parallel citations, case history, and citations to case comments in English legal periodicals. The entries also include references to "cases judicially considered."
If your case is not listed in the Current Law Case Citator, try the Consolidated Table of Cases of the Digest. The Table will refer you to a volume, subject title, page, and case number in The Digest. An update of the table appears in the annual Cumulative Supplement.
If you still cannot find your case, the English Reports: Full Reprint, the Revised Reports, and the All England Law Reports each has its own table of cases. The Law Reports also has an Index from 1950 to the present which covers the Weekly Law Reports as well as the Law Reports.
To "Shepardize" an English case, use the Current Law Case Citator. Find your case by case name. After any parallel cites the entry will refer you to any cases that judicially considered the original case. Possible types of judicial consideration include: distinguished, referred to, applied, followed, considered, doubted, disapproved, not followed, dictum considered, etc. The references are given as a year and a digest number (ie: 71/178) in the Current Law Year Book. To get a full citation, go to the appropriate annual volume of the Current Law Year Book and then to the digest number. The digest will include the full name of the case, the official citation, any unofficial citations, and a short discussion of the case.
The Law Reports may be searched on Westlaw in the law-rpts file and on LexisNexis in the uk library, iclr file. Reported cases from the official Law Reports, the unofficial reports since January 1945, as well as unreported cases since January 1980 are available in the cases file of the enggen library on LexisNexis. Also on LexisNexis, a separate case law file is available for tax decisions, uktax library, cases file. The New Law Journal is online in LexisNexis's ukjnl library, nlj file. The British and Irish Legal Information Institute has a searchable database of cases decided since 1996.