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University of York Library
Library Subject Guides


Cases and legislation (statutes)

Welcome to your online guide to finding resources for law.


Cases are judgements. Thousands of cases are heard every day in the UK courts. Those that have established important rules of law are published in the official series, The Law Reports. These should be cited in preference as they are checked by judges.

Reading cases shows how lawyers think and reason. Cases contain observations from judges about many things including how the law should be reformed, what principles underlie the law, and why a particular case that was decided in the past is extremely important.

Reading a case encourages you to think about the law. You should ask questions such as, How do these cases fit together? Does one principle underlie them all or more than one?

You will need to read cases so that you can make legal arguments in court, apply the law in particular situations, and keep up-to-date with recent developments in the law.

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Law reports

Judgements are often reported in several law reports. When citing law reports in court you will be expected to cite the most authoritative version of the report. The generally accepted hierarchy of law reports is:

Law Reports: Appeal Cases (AC), Queen's Bench (QB), Family (Fam) and Chancery (Ch) are published by the  Incorporated Council of Law Reports (ICRL). Judgements recorded in this series are checked by judges and the arguments of Counsels are included. 

Weekly Law Reports (WLR): also published by the ICLR. Report the judgements of approximately 280 cases a year, cases which are reported in this series that have greater long term significance are republished in the Law Reports.

All England Law Reports (All ER): General series of law reports published by Lexis Butterworths. Cross-references are provided to other major legal reference works, including Halsbury's Law and Halsbury's Statutes.

In addition to the general law report series detailed above cases will be reported in subject-based specialist law reports, for example the Criminal Law Reports (Crim LR). Often cases that are significant to a specific area of the law will be reported in one of these series even if they don't appear in one of the general series. 

Finding cases

The following legal databases provide access to case reports, judgements, digests and comments. Click on the i for further information about any of these resources.

To search a legal database for a report of a case, it is necessary to provide nothing more than the names of the parties. To do this select the cases search form, then enter the names of the parties into the 'case name' search field. 

N.B. Lloyds Law Reports are accessed via i-law.

Unreported cases

Cases that do not appear in one of the law report series are referred to as unreported cases. Only a very small percentage of cases are reported in the law reports resulting in there being a vast amount of unreported cases. The transcripts of the judgements, digests and case notes of unreported cases are often freely available on the court website. The official transcripts of cases are also available through the specialist legal databases.

Law report abbreviations

References to cases will often just contain the abbreviated law report title, for example, the Weekly Law Reports would be W.L.R.

To search YorSearch you will need to enter the full-title, if you are unsure what this is you can use the following resources to look up the full title from an abbreviation:

Legislation (statutes)

Legislation is what is created by Parliament; it is split into primary and secondary types.

Acts start off as a Bill, are passed by both Houses of Parliament, and then given Royal Assent. Acts are classed as primary legislation.

Acts of Parliament are constantly changing; you need to make sure you are looking at the correct version of the Act for the research you are conducting. Before searching the electronic resources consider if you are looking for up-to-date law (consolidated), historical law (as enacted) or the law at a certain point in time. The version of the law you are looking for will influence your decision on which database to select for your research.

Secondary legislation is referred to as delegated or subordinate legislation. The key type of secondary legislation is the statutory instrument (SI). Around 3,000 SIs are generated each year and you will see them cited with a year and then a sequential number, eg 2004/739. An SI adds detail to the enabling act, and is often used when a speedy change in the law is required.

Understanding legislation is a key skill. Every legal topic that you study will generally involve a mixture of legislation and case law.

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Finding legislation

The resources listed below are useful for accessing statute law in the UK. Click on the i for further information about any of these resources.

To search for an Act of Parliament on the electronic databases search for the short title followed by the year.

New laws & amendments

Most new laws, or changes to existing laws, are proposed by the government. However, anyone can submit a recommendation for either a new law or a change to an existing law. For a proposal (bill) to become law in the UK it must be approved by the House of Commons and the House of Lords.

Bills before Parliament

Listed below are some of the Bills currently before Parliament. Click on the link to 'View Website' to see all the Bills currently before Parliament.

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