United Kingdom legal research primer for Canadian lawyers

English case law is still applied frequently by Canadian courts, particularly older English cases. If you cannot find relevant Canadian law the next step is usually to look for English law.

English law has had a profound influence on Canadian law. The Privy Council was the court of last resort for Canadian law until 1949. The law of the United Kingdom was imported into the Canadian colonies and remained the law until replaced by local law. Much of Canadian statute and case law is therefore derived from English law.

zap2However, English law must now be used with caution because the law of England and the law of Canada have diverged in recent years. Statutory provisions have changed the common law. Recent English law is heavily influenced by England’s membership in the European Union: Canadian law is increasingly influenced by our Charter jurisprudence, and in some areas by American law.

Court structure

This represents the basic structure of the English courts. There is also a lower tier of county, local, or special courts, such as Magistrates’ Court.

Prior to 1875, the English courts were divided between those with equitable and legal jurisdiction. However, this division was abolished in the Supreme Court of Judicature Act 1873.

Supreme Court
(prior to October 2009, House of Lords)
Court of Appeal (Civil) Court of Appeal (Criminal)
arrow-grey-up arrow-grey-up
High Court (Chancery, Queen’s Bench, Family Divisions) Crown Court (Criminal)



There are many excellent treatises on English law. Some of these, such as Chitty on Contractsor McGregor on Damages, are so well established that they are cited as authorities by the courts. Often the best starting point is to review the leading English texts on your topic.

Halsbury’s Laws of England

books01In the absence of a good text, the starting point for most UK research isHalsbury’s Laws of England.

Halsbury’s is the UK equivalent to the Canadian Encyclopedic Digest(CED). The 4th edition of Halsbury’s is in the process of being replaced by the 5th edition.

  • the Consolidated Index
  • the Consolidated Table of Cases
  • the Consolidated Table of Statutes
  • the index at the back of each volume
  • the table of contents at the beginning of each title
Main hardcover volume
Cumulative Supplement
Current Service (looseleaf)

Halsbury’s Laws of England is also available online, through Lexis and through an add-on subscription for Quicklaw subscribers.

Periodicals research

cdromsThe leading tool for finding UK periodical articles is the Legal Journals Index. However, references to UK periodicals can be located in several other sources. Most of these sources are available in print and electronic format:

  • Current Law (Current Legal Information)
  • European Legal Journals Index
  • Halsbury’s Laws of England, Table of Articles
  • Index to Legal Periodicals
  • Legal Resource Index (Legaltrac)

connecThere is a limited collection of UK journals available in full text on Lexis in the UKJNL library, ALLJNL file.

Searching case law

British and Irish Legal Information Institute (BAILII)

The British and Irish Legal Information Institute (BAILII) is a good place to start your case law research. It contains a growing volume of cases and legislation, although it is far from comprehensive. For a summary of its coverage, see Case law on BAILII. For search syntax, see the Search Syntax chart for BAILII.

Other free sites for case law

FreeLegalWeb is a searchable database of UK case law and legislation. Cases are linked to the LawCite case citator.

The English Reports are now freely available and searchable in full text.

Digests of recent decisions selected for publication in the UK Law Reports can be searched at the ICLR website. The site publishes leave information for the UK Supreme Court. Visitors to the site can also obtain a reporter citation for cases published in ICLR series by performing a name or neutral citation search for the case. Subscribers can access all of the cases published in ICLR series.

More comprehensive collections of UK case law on the Internet require a subscription.


Quicklaw subscribers can pay extra to subscribe to UK content:

  • UK Primary Law Collection
    • All England Law Reports from 1936
    • The Law Reports from 1865
    • CaseSearch Citator
    • Halsbury’s Is It in Force
  • Halsbury’s Laws of England
  • International Forms and Precedents Collection


Lexis has the most comprehensive on-line coverage of case law and statutes from the United Kingdom. It includes coverage of reported cases from 1945, and unreported cases from 1980. All of this material can be searched at once in the CASES file in the ENGGEN library.


Casetrack contains Court of Appeal and Queen’s Bench Division decisions from April 1996, and is very current.

Case reporters

The Law Reports

The Law Reports refers to several reporter series published since 1865, organised by court. The series currently includes

  • the Appeal Cases (A.C.)
  • the Queen’s Bench Division (Q.B.)
  • the Chancery Division (Ch.)
  • the Family Division (Fam.)

The Law Reports Index is a series of red-bound volumes containing indices and tables for these reporters. In addition to these reporters the Law Reports Index covers several other series, including the Weekly Law Reports (W.L.R.). The subject index in the Law Reports Indexis a useful research tool for finding cases on a particular topic.

educVolumes of the Law Reports Index published prior to 1950 contain case digests and judicial consideration tables. Volumes published after 1950 include subject indices to cases reported in the UK Law Reports series, and tables of cases judicially considered. A list of subject headings appears at the beginning of each volume. The subject headings and overall organisation differ substantially from those in Halsbury’s and The Digest.

The bound indices should be updated using the soft cover cumulative indexes. The bound volumes are not cumulative, so you must look into each one in order to carry out comprehensive research.

All England Reports

The All England Reports have been published since 1936. They are available in print and in CD ROM format.The All England Reports Consolidated Tables and Index includes a subject index to all cases reported in the All England Reports, as well as tables for judicial consideration of these cases.

The subject index is a quick way to find English law, although it is not comprehensive. The All ER Tables are usually shelved with the All England Reports.

Consolidated Tables and Index
Soft cover supplement
Individual reporter volumes
and paper parts

There is a separate 36 volume series, called All England Law Reports Reprint, that contains selected cases decided between 1558 and 1935.

English Reports and Nominate Reports

Between 1535 and 1865, English cases were reported in the Nominate Reports. There were many different reporter series during this period. These reports were each named after the private reporter who produced them.

books01The 176 volume English Reports, Full Reprint contains many of the cases reported in the Nominate Reports, plus earlier decisions back to 1220. The 149 volume English Reports, Revisedcontains decisions from 1785 to 1865. Both sets of the English Reports have a case name index so that you can ascertain whether a particular decision from the Nominate Reports has been reprinted in the English Reports. When citing these cases, include both the Nominate Report and the English Reports citation.

There is no subject index for the English Reports, but a very effective research tool is the full text version of the English Reports online. Courthouse Libraries BC has published a useful comparison of HeinOnline and CommonLII for accessing the English Reports.

If you are researching English case law from this period, The Digest and Halsbury’s will also help you to identify relevant cases. The Digest summarises many of the older cases, and provides annotations with judicial consideration references.

Finding Tools

Electronic databases

The electronic case law databases discussed under Searching case law are an excellent finding tool, and have supplanted many of the traditional tools such as digests and indices.

The Digest and CaseSearch

encartaThe Digest is the English equivalent to the Abridgment’s Canadian Case Digests. It provides case digests for English, Scottish, Irish, Commonwealth, European Court of Justice, and European Court of Human Rights cases.

The digests are organised according to legal topic, with cross-references to Halsbury’s Laws of England. You can locate case digests using the Table of Cases volume, the Index volume, or the Table of Contents appearing at the beginning of each title. The Index is poor, so you may find it easier to start by reviewing the Table of Contents for relevant titles. To update your research in the main volume of The Digest, use the most recent Cumulative Supplement. Depending on the date of the supplement, you may need to update further using the Quarterly Survey.

CaseSearch is a service on LexisNexis which is in effect the electronic version of the Digest. It allows you to search the digest by case citation, case name and keyword, and includes annotations to cases from 1502. It includes procedural history and judicial consideration.

Current Law

Current Law is available in print, and electronically through Westlaw UK.

The print version of Current Law consists of bound index volumes and year books, and monthly soft cover volumes for the current year. Look up your subject in the index volumes, and then locate the text of the digests you are referred to in the appropriate year books. In addition to cases, you will find references to journal articles.

Case reporter indexes

Indexes to case reporters provide a useful finding tool, as discussed under Case Reporters.

Updating your research

LawCite and BAILII

LawCite is a free Commonwealth case citator that lists citing cases, and links to them. Coverage is not comprehensive, but it is an excellent starting point. LawCite allows you to identify the cited case by citation or by style of cause. It then generates a list of the cases citing that case, with parallel citations, icons to indicate frequently cited cases, and links to the citing cases.

BAILII is a quick and free way to check for judicial consideration of a UK case, by conducting a proximity search for distinctive terms from the style of cause. However, coverage is not comprehensive.


Lexis has the most comprehensive collection of UK case law. Check the ENGGEN library, CASES file to find out if there are any new cases, or unreported cases, on your topic. For summaries organised by topic of the most current legal developments, check the UKCURR library.

money1Lexis can also be used to check for judicial consideration of a UK case. As there is no citator on Lexis for UK cases, no treatment codes are assigned. Given the cost of on-line research and the lack of a proper citator, you will probably want to use other tools for most of your judicial consideration research, and use Lexis only to check for unreported and very recent decisions citing your case. Do this by conducting a proximity search using distinctive terms from the style of cause.

Current Law

educCurrent Law is the best print source for keeping up to date on current developments in English law. It also contains tables for judicial consideration of cases and statutes. When compared to other judicial consideration tools such as The Digest, the All ER Tables, and the Law Reports Indexes, Current Law is the most comprehensive source for judicial consideration research of cases. However, it did not start publication until 1947. For older cases, check the annotations in The Digest.

To use the Current Law Case Citator, follow these steps:

  • Look up your case in the Current Law Case Citator volumes spanning the relevant time period. For the most recent citations, check the Table of Cases in the latest Current Law Monthly Digests. References in these volumes are either to parallel citations, to journal articles discussing the case (the references in square brackets) or to digests of cases that judicially consider the case (the references on the right side of the page).
  • To find the text of the digests themselves, look in the volume of the Current Law Year Book to which you are referred by the reference.

connecIn addition to print format, Current Law is available to subscribers through Westlaw UK.

CaseSearch and The Digest

CaseSearch on LexisNexis includes procedural history and judicial consideration of UK jurisprudence, including treatment codes.

In The Digest, individual case digests are followed by an annotation listing judicial consideration of the digested case. Because other noting-up services are more comprehensive, you should not rely exclusively on these annotations. However they can be useful, particularly for older English cases.

Case reporter indexes

The indexes for various reporter series, including the Law Reports series and the All England Law Reports, have tables listing judicial consideration of cases reported in those series. These sources are not comprehensive.

Consideration by Canadian courts

  • All ER Canadian Annotations is a looseleaf service published with the All ER reporter series. It lists cases reported in the All England Reports to which reference has been made in Canadian courts. It is not comprehensive.
  • You can also look for Canadian judicial consideration of English cases in the AbridgmentCanadian Case Citations in print, or through QuickCite on LawSource.
  • To find the most current Canadian cases citing an English case, conduct a proximity search in a full text collection of Canadian case law on Quicklaw, LawSource or CanLII using the distinctive portions from the style of cause of the English case.

Statutory research

Internet sources

Access is available on the Internet to

Halsbury’s Statutes

The best tool for starting UK statutory research is Halsbury’s Statutes of England and Wales. It contains the full text of the statutes, annotated with legislative history, judicial consideration, and references to related legislation.

If you know the name of the statute, start with the Table of Statutes. It will direct you to where the statute is covered in the set. If you don’t know the name of the statute, start with the General Index, which is a subject index. Follow the references into the main volumes of the set, and update with Current Service volumes and the Noter-up Service.

Table of Statutes and General Index
Main Volume
Current Service
Noter-up Service

Other useful components of the set include the

  • Destination Table – a concordance volume to assist where Acts have been consolidated
  • In Force volume – contains in force information for legislation passed since January 1, 1972

Halsbury’s publishes a similar research tool for researching UK regulations, called Halsbury’s Statutory Instruments.

Public Statutes

The official version of the UK statutes is the Public General Statutes. They are published in chronological order and are unconsolidated. Before you start looking in the Public General Statutes, ascertain the name and citation for the statute you are trying to find.

Use the chronological Table of Statutes to help you research the Public General Statutes. It lists the statutes by year, and within the year by chapter number. It contains amendment and in force information similar to the Table of Public Statutes for Canadian legislation.


Statutes are cited to the Public General Statutes citation. Statutes enacted prior to 1963 are cited by regnal year (name of monarch and year of reign). Statutes enacted during or after 1963 are cited by calendar year. Some citation examples are as follows:

Companies Act (U.K.), 1980, c. 22, s. 24.
Recognition of Trusts Act 1987 (U.K.), 1987, c. 14, s. 2.
Trustee Act, 1925 (U.K.), 15 & 16 Geo. 5, c. 19, s. 33.


Lexis provides access to full text statutes and regulations for the United Kingdom in the following databases:

  • the ENGGEN library, STAT file contains a current consolidation of the public general statutes
  • the ENGGEN library, SI file contains a current consolidation of statutory instruments
  • both statutes and statutory instruments can be searched in the ENGGEN library, STATIS file
  • bills can be searched in the UKCURR library, BILLS file

The consolidations of the statutes and statutory instruments do not contain repealed legislation. However, legislative history is covered in the annotations segment at the end of each document. In force information is provided at the beginning of each document.

Judicial consideration of legislation

Halsbury’s Statutes and the Current Law Statute Citator are the best print tools for researching judicial consideration of UK legislation. For the most current information, search in the ENGGEN library, CASES file on Lexis.


Best’s Legal Bookmarks, United Kingdom.

Carter, A Guide to the UK Legal System.

The Law Society Research Guides.

Queen’s University Faculty of Law, Legal Research Materials, Researching U.K. Law.

Rogrigues, Gary, “The ‘Great Encyclopedias’ of Legal Research” (14 July 2011) online: slaw <>.

Young, Researching Primary Legislation of the United Kingdom (LLRX).

Research guides in print

Dane & Thomas, How to Use a Law Library (London: Sweet & Maxwell, 2001).

Holborn, Butterworths Legal Research Guide, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006).

Jeffries & Miskin, Legal Research in England and Wales (London: Legal Information Resources Limited, 1996).

Knowles, Effective Legal Research (London: Sweet & Maxwell, 2009)

Tunkel, Legal Research: Law-Finding and Problem-Solving (London: Blackstone Press Limited, 1992).