Skip to Main Content
Bradford College
Library Online
Library User Library Account

Law (HE): Case Law

Case Law is the law created in the courts.

  • Find summaries of key cases in the textbooks.  At the front of the book you will find a list of all the cases discussed in the book and the page number. This will include a summary of the principles of the case and how it contributes to the development of the law.  They are the best starting point to your research.
  • For more detail, you will need to read the full report, which includes a list of all the cases and legislation that were referred to, the background of the case, and the full judgement with the reasoning of the judges.  This will help you understand why their decisions were made. 
  • To find a full case reportuse the library databases.  Westlaw or LexisLibrary include the full text of the most important cases, with links for additional reading, related cases, related legislation and commentary. 

Law reports are produced by private publishers and, since 1865, a semi-official charitable body called the Incorporated Council of Law Reporting for England and Wales (ICLR). They are authoritative reports of judgements given in the most important cases, with additional head notes, catchwords etc., and are usually provided by barristers. The main law reports are available in Bradford College Library, either in print or online.

However, less than 5% of cases get reported. If the case has not been officially reported in a law report series (‘unreported’), you may be able to find an official transcript which will provide the full text of the judgement.

Click here to see how a law report is written, from a legal reporter attending court to the final publication.

What is a Citation?

A legal citation is a signpost which directs you to a legal authority. It may refer to the report or the transcript of a case, a journal article, or an entry in a legal yearbook or encyclopedia. These follow a standard format and should be used in your own bibliographies or references. Please note that a singlecase can be reported in a number of different law reports.

AbbreviationsAll citations use abbreviations to give the source of the information. You will begin to recognise certain abbreviations (eg. WLR) but some can be misleading. To find what an abbreviation stands for, use theCardiff Index to legal Abbreviations(online) or Raistrick’s Index to Legal Citations and Abbreviations, available in the law library. Law textbooks also usually give a list of common abbreviations.

How do I find a case if I know the parties?
If you know the parties of a case, you should usually be able to find it using Westlaw UK or LexisLibrary.  If it is a specialised case, for example in Family, use LexisLibrary.  If it is Immigration Law, use EIN. For very recent or unreported cases, use Lawtel UK.    
For LexisLIbrary and Westlaw, select Cases from the options at the top of the screen.  Enter your party names in the Party Names / Case Name search box and click on Search.  You may get a lot of results - scroll down to find the correct year or citation.
How do I find a case if I know the citation?
If you know the citation, your search will be a lot more focused.  Enter the citation in the Citation search box. You will usually need to enter the citation without any brackets or punctuation - for example [1932] A.C. 562 would usually be entered as 1932 AC 562. 
How do I find a case if I know the subject?
Subject searches will usually bring up a lot of results as databases hold lots of cases going back many years.  If possible restrict your search as much as possible by using Advanced search options such as Subject Terms, Topics, or restrict by date or related legislation. 

You have found a useful case reference in a book or your lecture notes.  How do you find it in the library?

STEP 1 – Where is the case published?  Only important cases are published in case reports (or ‘reported’).  First you will need to find out if your case has been reported.  A case may be reported in more than one series

Oxford v Moss (1979) 68 Cr App Rep 183

Hunter v Canary Wharf Ltd [1997] A.C. 655; [1997] 2 W.L.R. 684; [1997] 2 All E.R. 426;

Party Names

Report citation

Reports series

Oxford v Moss

(1979) 68 Cr App Rep 183

Cr App Rep

Hunter v Canary Wharf Ltd

[1997] A.C. 655

and [1997] 2 W.L.R. 684

and [1997] 2 All E.R. 426



All E.R.

As the reference usually only gives the abbreviated title (eg W.L.R), you will need find the full title.   This can be found in Donald Raistrick’s Index to Legal Citations and Abbreviations, 340.0148/RAI or the Cardiff index to legal abbreviations at

STEP 2 - Is the report available in the library? One main reports series is available in the Law Library.  This is the All England Law Reports (All E.R) .  If your citation includes All ER, you can read the report in print.  Hunter v Canary Wharf Ltd can be read in the All England Reports (find the volume for 1997, number 2, page 426).  The Criminal Appeal Reports are not available in the library so you will have to look online.

STEP 3 – Is the report available online?  Law reports are available on both Westlaw and Lexis.  For Tribunal reports, go to the government Tribunal page, click on the court and find the link to published or previous cases.     

STEP 4 - What if it’s not available? Unfortunately, we can’t subscribe to every law report series that is published.  If you can’t find your case, you can request a copy, and we will try to get hold of it for you. 

As a law student you will have to learn a large number of cases. Your lecturers and textbooks will only provide the summaries of these cases, but it is advisable to read the full report of the most important cases. This will improve your understanding of the decisions made in the case, and also see how judges apply legal reasoning in practice. 

Knowing how case reports are organised will help you to read them more effectively. From a first glance, they can seem intimidating, so knowing how they are laid out will help you approach them with more confidence, and learn which are the important sections for you to read.  This blog gives you some arguments on why you should read cases. 

This short video from Routledge will help you understand the structure of a law report.