Free case law resources
BAILII (British and Irish Legal Information Institute) provides free access to the most comprehensive and up-to-date collection of British and Irish primary legal materials on the internet with 90 databases covering 7 jurisdictions. A user can pick individual or groups of courts, tribunals or collections of legislation to search or search across the whole seven jurisdictions in one go, indeed using LawCite users can search legal materials throughout many jurisdictions across the world. Some of the courts covered are the UK Supreme Court (and archived House of Lords decisions), Court of Appeal of England and Wales; the Irish Supreme Court; the Northern Ireland Court of Appeal; Scottish Court of Session (back to 1469) and High Court; the Privy Council (back to 1809 including arguments and proceedings in many cases), the Court of Justice of the European Communities and the European Court of Human Rights. There are also full-text legislation (as accented to) databases from Ireland, Northern Ireland, and the United Kingdom. Also on BAILII are Law Commission publications and tribunal decisions including many of the UK Upper Tribunals and First Tier Tribunals. In many instances BAILII has these documents available days before any other source. BAILII now offers RSS feeds for a all court and other materials.
BAILII is legally constituted in the UK as a company limited by guarantee (No 4131252) and as a charitable trust (registered charity no 1084803) and has been supported by a number of major sponsors and is assisted by many other organisations and individuals. BAILII is hosted in the UK and Ireland by the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, London and the Law Faculty, Queen’s University Belfast, University College Cork. The databases on BAILII are derived from a number of sources. Some of the data comes from existing free sites. Most of the databases are based on published and unpublished CD-ROMs or rely upon direct and indirect feeds by relevant courts, government departments and other organisations. All of the data has been converted into a consistent format and a generalised set of search and hypertext facilities have been added.
The Supreme Court replaced the House of Lords as the highest court in the United Kingdom in October 2009. The Supreme Court and it’s 12 Justices are now explicitly separate from both Government and Parliament. The Court hears appeals on arguable points of law of the greatest public importance, for the whole of the United Kingdom in civil cases, and for England, Wales and Northern Ireland in criminal cases. Additionally, it hears cases on devolution matters under the Scotland Act 1998, the Northern Ireland Act 1988 and the Government of Wales Act 2006. This jurisdiction was transferred to the Supreme Court from the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.
The Supreme Court sits in the former Middlesex Guildhall, on the western side of Parliament Square, which has been extensively remodelled to provide the facilities needed including advanced computer and technical facilities. There is extensive information on the site on the history, role and processes of the Supreme Court. Decided Cases are published on the site in pdf form after the Judgments are handed down both in a “press summary” (effectively a case report) and in full. The judgments can be sorted in ascending or descending order of hand-down date, neutral citation, case ID or case name or can be searched for by ID number or by keywords. Judgments are also made available on BAILII.
It has launched its own YouTube channel showing videos of judgments being handed down and also some information videos about the history and role of the court. Judgments go back to 2012/2013 but only a selection of the most important ones. There is an interesting history and analysis of the Supreme court on the Guardian’s Law Section here – The UK supreme court: an interactive history. The history starts in 1399 (the time of Henry Bollingbroke) and continues to the present day, with more recent periods described with a “Summary of the key judgments” emanating from each period.
The UK Supreme Court (blog) is written by members of Matrix Chambers and the Litigation Department of Olswang LLP – a very distinguished cast of bloggers! The introduction to the blog says “This blog is dedicated to the UK Supreme Court. The UK Supreme Court is the UK’s highest court; its judgments bind lower courts and thus shape the development of English Law. between 1399 and 2009, the Law Lords, the judges of the most senior court in the country, sat within Parliament. In October 2009, however, they moved to an independent court in the Middlesex Guildhall. To mark this historic development, this blog has been set up to provide commentary on the UK Supreme Court and its judgments.”
You can browse the material by:
- Case Previews (Upcoming Hearings) indicating the most important cases on their way to the Supreme Court
- New Judgments, providing a brief case report and linking to both the press summary and the full judgment
- Case Comments, providing a more extensive analysis of recent judgments
- Features, a series of occasional articles on key developments in current cases and developing case law.
House of Lords Judgments are available from 1996 to 2009 as an archive, sorted by title within year. The judgments are available in html form and also, since 2005, in pdf form as well. To search these, you have to use the general Parliament searching process.
The Courts and Tribunal Judiciary publish handed down judgments from the Courts oif Appeal and High Court of England and Wales.
LawCite comes from the family of Legal Information Institutes (LIIs) of which BAILII is one. It is an automatically-generated international legal case citator, used to locate judgments and to see how these have been subsequently dealt with and commented upon – perhaps throughout the world. Since LawCite was developed by the LIIs, it has a particularly international element. Over 15,000 law report and journal series are currently indexed with nearly 5 million cases and law journal articles in the database from around the world. The current emphasis is on common law countries, but this is being gradually extended to include civil law jurisdictions as well. It is mainly maintained by computer with no editorial involvement and so is always up to date. New cases are generally available within 24 hours of publication on any collaborating LII and are then available via WorldLII.
vLex provides free open accounts for the United States, Canada and other select common-law regions. Open accounts also enable users to access metadata that identifies case treatments and commonly cited cases across vLex’s entire collection of judgments, so that users can search documents that sit outside of the open access availability. vLex offers all users unrestricted access to search results, so you can fully understand the extent of the coverage. With over 120 million documents from over 100 countries, vLex offers one of the largest collections of legal literature available on a single service.
Start a free trial of vLex to learn more, or contact the team directly for enquiries about open products.
Scottish Courts Web Site provides many recent Court Opinions of importance since 1998. As it says on the site: “This site provides an access point to information relating to all civil and criminal courts within Scotland, including the Court of Session, the High Court of Justiciary, the Sheriff Courts and a number of other courts, commissions and tribunals as well the District Courts. The information includes location details, contact numbers, advice and details of recent significant judgments. The site is regularly updated with any changes and other relevant information.”
Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service (NICTS) is an Agency within the Department of Justice (DOJ) sponsored by the Access to Justice Directorate. The site provides selected Judgments and Practice Directions since 1999.
The Incorporated Council of Law Reporting for England and Wales (ICLR) is the official publisher of The Law Reports, the Weekly Law Reports and a number of specialist series, all of which are available online. ICLR publishes free WLR Daily case summaries of all cases which it plans to report in full in any of its subscriber series, as well as transcripts or links to many unreported judgments. Access to the search (which includes current legislation and cases published elsewhere) is also free. (You only need to log in to read subscription series.) The website has recently been updated to include a new Knowledge section, with a growing number of articles about case law, legislation, the legal system and a glossary of legal terms.
The Scottish Council of Law Reporting (SCLR) is a charity, established by the Scottish legal profession to manage publication of Session Cases and other materials intended to help promote the best practice of Scots law. The Council makes its publications available to as wide an audience as possible, at as low a cost as possible. The SCLR is provides a database of selected and important Scottish cases from 1873 to 2010, as an open access resource, in association with Justis. To further widen its “reach”, the SCLR now also provides series of five linked short films about law reporting in Scotland and the place of law reports in Scottish legal practice and made these available on You Tube. The celebrated case of Donoghue v. Stevenson provides a useful theme as the role of precedent in the work of lawyers and the courts is explained. The films are presented as a free educational resource, especially useful for those seeking to understand the role of law reports as a primary source of law.
The SCLR also offer the report of Donoghue v Stevenson with related materials, including the court papers, for open access on their website. As part of their objective of making Scots law reports as widely available as possible the SCLR has been capturing important historical Scots law reports, including those in Morison’s Dictionary and the Scottish Appeal Cases, and making these avilable free of charge. These materials can be found, inter alia, on BAILII’s Historic Scottish Law Reports pages.
LexisWeb.co.uk is a relaunched version of the LexisNexis search engine that provides a great deal of free legal information and links into paid-for legal content from LexisNexis. It includes Acts and SI’s (as enacted) and selected case summaries, which can be searched by practice area or by year. It is well designed and attractive, as well as easy to use, so it is a useful addition to the free legal resources available online although other resources, like BAILII and legislation.gov.uk provide similar material albeit in a different form. For digests or full transcripts, or consolidated legislation, you need a LexisNexis subscription.
One Crown Office Row’s Human Rights Update is a database of 1,000 reports and commentaries on human rights dating back to 1998 with a weekly update co-ordinated by Chambers Academic Rosalind English. The cases are taken from domestic courts and the Strasbourg court involving human rights points that demonstrate the impact of the European Convention on domestic law and also explores the practical impact of these cases for practitioners. There is a good search engine and it is possible to sign up for a weekly update by email. As well as being a resource for practitioners, it will be widely used by students and less experienced lawyers, and possibly also members of the public, since it includes a practical guide to the Convention and the Act; what are “Incorporated Rights”, “Procedures and Remedies” and so on. There is now also a UK Human Rights Blog written by members of 1 Crown Office Row, for more immediate comment and news.
David Swarbrick, now a consultant to Wrigley Claydon, provides an index of case reports from 1991 to 1999 (take the “Law-index” link”). This can be searched by statute, area of law, date and by court. There is now also a “professional” (and charged) version called Lawindexpro with additional features such as links to 35,000 full text decisions and 12,000 head-notes. However, the basic free area is still available in a limited form.
The Law Society Gazette provides selected recent case reports provided by LexisNexis.
(The other journals and newspapers do not seem to have free law reports any more, but require a subscription. If I have missed something, please tell me!).
Transcripts of Judicial Proceedings in England and Wales: a Guide to Sources comes from Inner Temple Library, compiled by Sally Mclaren (2011). The guide is intended primarily for libraries and information service staff who may need to obtain, or assist others to obtain, transcripts of the proceedings of courts and tribunals in England and Wales. The guide is provided as a pdf document (for single use) for £19.99. Multiple use rates are also possible.
Particular areas of law
Other law reports and news services covering particular areas of law, free or reasonably priced, include the following:
CaseCheck is an extensive free database of court cases and case law from the Supreme Court, English & Welsh Courts, Scottish Courts and European courts related to personal injury.
Family Law Newswatch is a site from Jordans which provides up to date news, cases and legislation. There are also opinions, interviews and a calendar, and you can sign up for an RSS feed. This is really a free “taster” to the many Jordans online services in Family Law and you can sign up for a free trial from the Online Services page.
Family Law Week covers developments in divorce, ancillary relief, private child law, public child law and cohabitation. You have to register, but it is free. The site provides news, articles and cases as well as legislation, with details of all new SIs, together with a link to the full text of the legislation; progress of Bills is tracked.
Consumer Crime Cases (CCC) is a database of several hundred digests of appeal cases relating to Trading Standards prosecutions. The site covers specialist points of law peculiar to consumer and other regulatory law and, in addition, with precedents on legal issues such as abuse of process or duplicity which derive from the more general field of criminal law. The case reports come from Victor Smith a former head of the legal service at Northamptonshire County Council. There is a (modest) charge to access the reports, either for an individual or for a corporate account.
Employment Cases Update from Bath Publishing, provides free access to the full text of key employment law cases as they are published, from the Supreme Court, Court of Appeal, High Court and EAT, starting from January 2010. Many of the cases have been sourced from existing free resources but are convenient to find in one place, rather than having to search across these other sources. The text is all free to view and users can also sign up for a free weekly newsletter or a RSS feed. Associated with the case reports is a modestly priced CPD facility.
Employment Cases old and new from emplaw includes summaries of over 2,500 employment law related cases, including all cases reported in the ICR and IRLR series since January 2000. In addition a weekly emplaw e-PSL e-mail newsletter includes summaries of all new employment law related judgments which have appeared on the web in the previous week. All emplaw case summaries are cross referenced to relevant emplaw commentary and all have links to the full text judgments. All emplaw material is fully searchable. Basic versions are provided free of charge and a free downloadable iPad app version is currently in course of preparation. A subscription is required for access to full content, starting at just £10 + VAT for 24 hours access.
Michael J L Turner provides an extensive list of cases relating to the Computer Misuse Act 1990. He gives a brief summary of each case and a link to a free source of information, if available. Michael Turner is an experienced forensic computer examiner, a Registered Forensic Practitioner in the speciality of Computer Examination: Data Examination and an established and experienced independent expert witness on computer evidence.
Mental Health Law Online is an internet resource on mental health law in England & Wales, primarily for mental health practitioners, to which anyone can contribute. The site has been set up by a mental health solicitor. There are three sections to this website:
i) Caselaw; regularly updated commentaries on the cases, with links to the full text judgments on Bailii. (Bailii contains nearly every judgment, but no specific commentary.)
ii) Legislation; The full text of, and a simple and up-to-date commentary on, the Mental Health Act 1983, the Mental Capacity Act 2005, and related legislation.
iii) General articles to explain the concepts and terminology used in the caselaw and legislation sections and practical guidance for lawyers.
5RB (5 Raymond Buildings) provide 300 case reports covering cases in media and entertainment law, many of which have involved members of chambers. You can register on the site for email briefings with monthly round-ups of the key issues and new cases covered on the site.
Gray’s Inn Chambers offers a tax case reporting service with online digests of all recent tax and VAT cases in which members of chambers have appeared, with full transcripts in some cases (in pdf format). There are also comprehensive links to other tax cases.
elawstudent.com is a small company developing law courses and in particular, so far, an ‘A’ Level Law software programme (GCSE law and the core subjects for the first year of the LLB degree will follow later in the year). In the meantime, barrister Richard Priestley is making his database of significant edited transcripts of case judgments available to anyone interested. Take the Library option (you have to register). You can then search by keyword (e.g. negligence) or by name or part of name. I asked how the cases were chosen. Richard said “I choose the cases in accordance with the syllabi of AQA and OCR, who are the only two examining boards offering AS/A LEVEL LAW. Unfortunately, the areas covered are huge: crime, contract, tort, consumer protection, human rights and els. Frankly, in terms of depth, I would equate the course with a first-year LL.B.”
English Reports are a large collection of historic judgments dating from 1220-1873, based on data provided by Justis (apparently 124882 of these). The reports are in PDF but are full text searchable – an amazing historical resource.
The Proceedings of the Old Bailey is “A fully searchable online edition of the largest body of texts detailing the lives of non-elite people ever published, containing accounts of over 100,000 criminal trials held at London’s central criminal court.” it is coming online in stages, with the first stage, 22,000 trials, from December 1714 to December 1759, available now. “The Proceedings” is the name of the original published version. Here is what it says about these: “The Proceedings contain accounts of trials which took place at the Old Bailey. The crimes tried were mostly felonies (predominantly theft), but also include some of the most serious misdemeanours. The first published collection of trials at the Old Bailey dates from 1674, and from 1678 accounts of the trials at each session (meeting of the Court) at the Old Bailey were regularly published. Inexpensive, and targeted initially at a popular rather than a legal audience, the Proceedings were produced shortly after the conclusion of each sessions and were a commercial success. With few exceptions, this periodical was regularly published each time the sessions met (eight times a year) for 160 years. In 1834 it changed its name, but publication continued until 1913.” The site is beautifully prepared, with the full text available as well as digital images of the original reports. There are also some pictures from legal material of the time together with an extensive Introduction. There is a particular section for schools, with the site obviously seen as material for school projects. The project is funded by various grants so that access can be free.