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Legal History Research: Court records & trials

Resources for researching Australian legal history

Abridgments of the Year Books

There are several texts known as abridgments to the Year Books. They incorporate cases from the Year Books but also cases that do not appear in the Year Books but which come from that period. Generally, the cases are arranged by subject matter.

  • Statham's Abridgment (available through HeinOnline (UniMelb access)). Abridgment of Cases to the End of Henry VI (1461)
  • Fitzherbert's Abridgement (1516) (available through HeinOnline (UniMelb access)). 'Contains a digest of all the cases in the year-books, down to the 21 Hen VII ... as well as cases from the reigns of Rich. II, Edw. I and II, Hen. III, and a number of readings and original authorities no where else to be found' Marvin, Legal Bibliography, 1847
  • An introduction to Fitzherbert's Abridgement / by Frederick Lister Boersma (catalogue record)
  • Brooke's Abridgement (1573) (also known as La Graunde Abridgement (catalogue record)). Based on the work of Fitzherbert, Brooke's Abridgement contains significantly more cases. Several editions are available through Early English Books Online (UniMelb access).

History of Law Reporting

For a summary of the evolution of law reporting, see Origins in England from the Incorporated Council of Law Reporting for the State of Queensland (ICLRQ). For more detailed information, see the books below.

Other useful databases

List of Year Books (dates and locations)

This document shows the date ranges of various year books and locations of online and hard copy versions.

Year books

The first reported law cases appeared in the Year Books from the medieval period. The earliest examples date from about 1268, and the last in the printed series are for the year 1535. Year books are "anonymous compliations arranged chronologically by regnal year and law term. Their function orginally appears not to have been to record precedents as such, but to act as educational tools through which developments in the law were discussed." (Butterworths Legal Research Guide/Guy Holburn (2006) p.169)

Accessing Year Books

The Year Books are accessible through a range of resources. Some of the titles are given below, for a full list of year book titles and where they are available, see the document below.

  •  Cobbett's Complete Collection of State Trials / William Cobbett and Thomas B Howell (eds) (reports from 1338 to 1777) availabe online through The Making of Modern Law (UniMelb access)
  • Select Cases Concerning the Law Merchant / Charles Gross (ed) (reports from 1239 to 1779) available through HeinOnline (SS publication no.23, 46 & 49) (UniMelb access)
  • Year Books, or, Reports in the Following Reigns, With Notes to Brooke and Fitzherbert's Abridgments: the Vulgate edition / John Maynard and David Seipp (eds) (reports from 1307 to 1538) available through HeinOnline. (UniMelb access)
  • Select Cases in the Exchequer Chamber, Before All the Justices of England / Mary Hemmant (ed) (reports from 1377 to 1509) available through HeinOnline (SS publication no.51 and 64) (UniMelb access)

See this list of hard copy year book resources held by the University of Melbourne.

 Indexes and other resources

This contemporary index enables more comprehensive access to the content of the year books. Also includes Article and Book Bibliography listing articles and books that discuss the Year books (and the Abridgements) or employ them as principal sources.

See also :

This is a collaborative database on the published sources of English medieval legal documents, and provides links to the growing number of online sources currently being developed. It lists the reign of each monarch in the period and the year books that pertain to that year.

This book examines the history of the Year Book and its role in English law. An appendix includes facsimilies of yearbook entries along with a transliteration and translation of each.

  • The year books : lectures delivered in the University of London at the request of the Faculty of Laws / Sir William Craddock Bolland (1921) - available through The Making of Modern Law : Treatises (UniM access)

This series of lectures examines the history, purpose and language of the Year Books.

Law reports

Nominate Reports

From around 1535, court cases began to be published in a more systematic fashion. "The pattern was for reports to be issued by commercial publishers under the name of the particular law reporter, who usually covered a particular court. Because these reports are know by the reporter's name, they are referred to as nominate reports." (Butterworths Legal Research Guide/Guy Holburn (2006) p.168)

See this list of nominate reports held by the Law Library.

Many of the cases from nominate reports were reprinted in The English Reports. This series contains reprinted decisions of all English courts from 1220 to the commencement of the official Law Reports in 1866. The English Reports are in hard copy in the Law Library and available online through HeinOnline (UniMelb access), Justis (UniMelb access) and CommonLII (free). Nominate report cases were also reprinted in the Revised Reports. These are available in hard copy in the Law Library or online via HeinOnline (UniMelb access).

For a list of nominate reports, their abbreviations and locations in the English Reports, see the following sources:

When citing nominate reports, you should also include a parallel citation of the English Reports (or the Revised Reports) where available (Rule 23.1.3, Australian Guide to Legal Citation, 3rd edition, p.238).

The Law Reports

The Incorporated Council of Law Reporting was established in 1865 as the authorised publisher of the official series of The Law Reports for the Superior and Appellate Courts of England and Wales. The Law Reports are still recognised as the authorised reports today.

The Law Reports are available in hard copy in the Law Library (see catalogue record) and online through ICLR, Westlaw and Lexis (UniMelb access).

Old Bailey cases

The Proceedings of the Old Bailey, 1674-1913, a fully searchable website of criminal cases held at London's central criminal court.

See also this guide for accessing Trials in the Old Bailey and the Central Criminal Court produced by The National Archives.


Reports and transcripts of historical trials are available through a number of sources.

Australian court records