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Case Law & Law Reports

Online guidance to assist with case law research

Case law is sometimes referred to as judge made law. In common law systems, it refers to the law that has been established by following decisions made by judges in earlier cases - legal precedents.

Disputed points of law will come before the senior courts for deliberation and decision. In this way the law can be changed or clarified, and a precedent set for all subsequent courts to follow and apply.

You have access to a vast collection of online case law and law reports through the online databases. 

These offer great advantages over using the printed law reports.

  • You have global access 24/7 to content.  
  • You can quickly locate a specific law report or search for case law on a particular topic
  • When reading a case, you can look at related case law, commentary and legislation alongside the particular piece of case law you are examining - this allows you to see the law in context.

Understanding case law and law reporting

The ICLR (Incorporated Council of Law Reporting for England and Wales) provides a very useful Knowledge tool with reference and supports materials to help you understand the role of case law in our legal system.  In particular you may find it useful to look at the following.  You can also use the Knowledge tool to search for commentary on other aspects of case law and reporting.

For your research you will often need to find cases which contain a similar fact situation and legal issue as the legal problem you are interested in.  You will also want to reassure yourself as to whether the case law you find is still 'good law' or whether it has been overruled or distinguished in later cases.  The online databases are ideal for this activity as they can connect you to earlier and subsequent cases and related commentary.

Cases in the courts are reported in numerous series of law reports (print and online). Law Reports series editors select cases for reporting cases selectively.  Cases are selected for reporting if they lay down a new principle of law, or change or clarify the existing law.  Many cases remain "unreported," which means that they have not been published in a law report series - you may find some of these cases in the case law sections of LexisLibrary and Westlaw but many other cases are only accessible through  official court transcripts - for a fee!

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