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Law: Case Law

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Understanding Case Law


A very small percentage of the cases heard in UK Courts are reported and available online or in hard copy. Cases are reported if they are of legal significance and these are usually heard in the higher courts i.e. Court of Appeal or Supreme Court.  

Cases are reported in law reports. There are many series of law reports owned by different publishers who decide which cases to report, so the same case can be reported in more than one series of law reports. Some series of law reports are considered more authoritative than others. This Lexis guide explains the hierarchy of law reports.  

Read this excellent Understanding UK Case Law guide from SOAS University of London to find out more.

Legal Abbreviations


Finding cases in the UK & EU for free


BAILII - Case Law Search

Include decisions from the Courts of the four jurisdictions of the United Kingdom and from the Courts of Ireland. Coverage of English Court of Appeal, House of Lords and Privy Council cases is from 1996 onwards.

Finding UK and EU Legislation online from the legal databases


Finding cases in the print resources


To find a case in the Law Library, you need to have a legal citation for the case.

An example of a Case citation is [2002] 3 WLR 247. See below what the different parts of the citation stand for:



To find the judgment of this particular case in the Law Library, you need to:

  • Find out what the abbreviation of the law report title stands for, using the library leaflet ‘Legal Abbreviations and Acronyms’. In this instance, the abbreviation of the law report title is W.L.R. which stands for the 'Weekly Law Reports'.
  • Find the Weekly Law Reports on the shelves. Law reports are kept in alphabetical order by title in the Journals/Law Report section of the Law Library so this title will be shelved under ’W’.
  • Find the year 2002, and volume 3 for that year. Look at page 247. The case is Thoburn v Sunderland City Council.

As more cases became available electronically, cases after 2001 are also given a new form of citation known as "neutral citation". The neutral citation denotes the court that issued the judgment and the case number (it does not refer to a law report)