This page of the Law Subject Guide provides information about primary UK legal materials. Links to useful electronic resources for researching UK legal materials are provided.
Primary sources of law are statements of the law itself. Primary legal sources can be divided into two categories: legislation (Statutes, SIs and regulations) and case law (decisions of the court).
Parliament produces statute law. Through it's legislative powers Parliament can also delegate the law making powers to local councils and governments though secondary legislation.
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.
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.
Legal Glossary: The Non-Lawyer's Guide to Legal Terms - A helpful glossary created by Family Law Solicitors for their clients.
Law and Rights - These pages, created by Citizens Advice, inform you about legal and civil rights and explain how you should be treated by the police and prison system.
For further information about European Union Law and the European Convention of Human Rights, see the European Union Legal Materials section of this Subject Guide.
Legislation, often referred to as statute law, is the term applied to a country’s written laws. In the UK legislation usually refers to Acts of Parliament, but in its broadest sense it also includes laws made under the powers conferred by Acts of Parliament.
Enacted or Consolidated
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.
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.
Case law (judge-made law), the primary source of law that forms the doctrine of precedent in the English Legal System, is published in 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:
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.
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.
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.
Common law refers to the rules of law developed by the courts, not the Parliament created statutes. English Law opertates a common law system where judgements and decisions made in the courts are considered a primary source of the law.
Precedent refers to the judgement or decision of a court that is used to inform the decision made in subsequent similar cases. These judgements and decisions are usually recorded in a law report.
Image: UK Supreme Court
You need to ensure that the primary materials you are citing are 'good law'. Legislation can be amended by SIs and cases can subsequently receive positive or negative judicial treatment.
Subscription databases will often provide information on the status of the legislation or the case so that you can check that it is still considered to be 'good law'.