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United Kingdom Law

England & Wales Court Structure

Understanding UK Case Law

Case law (or judicial precedent or judge made law) is the law in Common Law jurisdictions that is made by judges in a court of law. They are primary sources of law that evolve as courts interpret statutes and follow the decisions made by judges in earlier cases according to the doctrine of precedent. This doctrine operates under the principle of stare decisis meaning "to stand by decisions", so courts must follow and apply the law as set out in the decisions of the higher courts in previous cases. It is important to study case law to understand how legislation is applied and interpreted by the courts.

A small portion of cases heard before the courts are published in a Law Report. These are usually cases of note, eg. they are controversial or establish or overturn a precedent. 


Authorised Reports

University of Oxford's Law Reports page includes a good overview of Law Reports, their structure and hierarchy.

Reports after 1865

The Official Law Reports (Appeals Cases, Queen's Bench, Chancery, Family) published by the Incorporated Council of Law Reporting for England and Wales are the authorised reports. These are available on ICLR Online.

Where a judgment has not (or not yet) been reported in the Official Law Reports, but has been reported in the Weekly Law Reports (W.L.R.) or All England Law Reports (All ER), then this report should be cited.

Where a judgment has not been reported in the Official Law Reports, Weekly Law Reports or All England Reports but has been reported in an authoritative specialist series of reports, this report should be cited.

Where a judgment has not been reported in any of the report series above but has been reported in other reports, this report should be cited.

Reports prior to 1865

Reports published between 1537 and 1865 are referred to as nominate reports and are published under the name of the reporter (eg. Coke's Reports, Simons, Beavan, etc.). Many of the nominate reports have been complied and reprinted. The first reprint is the Revised Reports (RR) and the subsequent (and preferred) reprint is the English Reports (ER).

When citing nominate reports, you should also include a parallel citation of the English Reports (or the Revised Reports) where available.

The Revised Reports and English Reports are available in print and online - check the library catalogue.

Interpret Citations/ case abbreviations

References to reported cases often include an abbreviation of the report series title. You can use these tools to find the meaning of an abbreviation

Subsequent Judicial Consideration - cases citing a case

To see if a case has been considered by other cases, use the following tools:

Find judicial consideration of words and phrases


To find whether section of legislation has been considered by the courts, use the following search tools:

Tip: search the legislation title as a phrase.

Judicial Consideration of Legislation

Use the Westlaw UK Legislation tab:

  • navigate (browse or search) to the Act, Statutory Rule etc.
  • Click on the hyperlink to the legislation (not the pdf icon)
  • Click on the section in which you are interested.
  • In the lefthand menu, click on All Cases Citing.

Keeping up to date with cases citing a case

You can set up an RSS feed on BAILLI, so that every time a case cites your case, you will be notified.

For more information on setting up alerts for UK cases, see the UK menu item on the 'Cases' tab in the Keeping up to Date research Guide. For more information on RSS feeds, see the RSS Feeds and Email Alerts tab on the Keeping up to Date research Guide.

Keeping up to date with recent cases on your topic - saved searches

BAILII caselaw searches are available as RSS feeds. When you perform a search, you will see the RSS feed icon on the results page. Click on the RSS Feed for this Search text next to the orange icon and copy the URL link into your RSS reader - you will then be notified whenever new decisions that match your search terms are added to BAILLI.

Order of Party Names in Appeals Cases

Cases in the Court of Appeal have always retained the order of the parties at first instance ie: Plaintiff/Claimant v Defendant, regardless of which was the appellant or respondent.

In the case of appeals to the House of Lords (now the Supreme Court), prior to 1974, the appellant was always named first regardless of whether they had been the plaintiff or defendant at first instance. In 1974, this position was changed so that the order of the parties remains the same throughout (see Practice Direction (House of Lords: Case Title) [1974] 1 WLR 305, and sections 2.1.18 to 2.1.22 under the heading Case Title of the Supreme Court Practice Direction No.2).

Popular Names of Case

Cases can sometimes attract popular names in the media or within legal circles.

A list of popular names is available in Clinch, Legal Research: A Practitioner's Handbook (2010), p.373

You can also search for cases using their popular names on Justcite (see this list of names).

Historical Cases

For more detailed information on finding historical cases, see the Legal History Research Guide.

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.

Supreme Court Website

The Supreme Court website includes links to:

UK Supreme Court Judgment Videos

When the Court is sitting, you can view live footage of the hearings via the Supreme Court Live website. 

The Supreme Court's Video on Demand website provides footage of complete trial proceedings in decided cases, including arguments and judgments. These are loaded onto the site as soon as the judgment is handed down, and are available for one year.

The Supreme Court's Youtube channel shows five-minute summaries of judgments, delivered by the lead Judge. The Justices’ summaries aim to explain briefly the background to the appeal in hand, the decision the court has reached, and the reasons for that decision.

The UK Supreme Court and European Court of Human Rights

Before the Human Rights Act was passed by Parliament in 1998 it was not possible for an individual in the UK to challenge a decision of a public authority on the grounds that it violated his or her rights under the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR), within the courts of the UK. Individuals instead had to take their case directly to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg (ECtHR).

Once the Human Rights Act came into force on 2 October 2000, individuals could claim a remedy for breaches of the Convention rights in the UK courts. An individual who thinks that his or her Convention rights have not been respected by a decision of a UK court may still bring a claim before the ECtHR, but they must first try their appeal in the UK courts.

It is the duty of all such courts, including the UK Supreme Court, to interpret all existing legislation so that it is compatible with the ECHR; so far as it is possible to do so. If the court decides it is not possible to interpret legislation so that it is compatible with the Convention it will issue a 'declaration of incompatibility'.

Although a declaration of incompatibility does not place any legal obligation on the government to amend or repeal legislation, it sends a clear message to legislators that they should change the law to make it compatible with the human rights set out in the Convention. In giving effect to rights contained in the ECHR the Court must take account of any decision of the ECtHR in Strasbourg. No national court should "without strong reason dilute or weaken the effect of the Strasbourg case law" (Lord Bingham of Cornhill in R (Ullah) v Special Adjudicator [2004] UKHL 26).

Source: The UK Supreme Court website

Link to the European Court of Human Rights website.


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