Here is a selection of some of the most important resources for free case law online drawn from my web page www.venables.co.uk/caselaw.htm.
BAILII (British and Irish Legal Information Institute) provides free access to the most comprehensive and up-to-date collection of British & 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 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 databases from Ireland, Northern Ireland, and the UK. 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 all court and other materials.
Some of the BAILII 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 Most of the databases are based on published and unpublished CD-ROMs or rely upon direct and indirect feeds by relevant courts, government departments and other organisations.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 UK in 2009. The site provides Decided Cases 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 available on BAILII. It has launched its own YouTube channel with videos of judgments being handed down and also information videos about its history and role.
UKSC Blog is written by members of Matrix Chambers and the Litigation Department of Olswang LLP – a very distinguished cast of bloggers! The blog provides commentary on the UK Supreme Court and its judgments.
You can browse by:
- Case Previews (Upcoming Hearings) indicating the most important cases coming to the Supreme Court
- New Judgments, providing a brief case report and linking to the press summary and the full judgment
- Case Comments, providing a more extensive analysis of recent judgments
- Features on key developments in current cases and developing case law.
Access To Law is a gateway site from Inner Temple Library, providing 1300 annotated links to selected UK, Commonwealth and worldwide legal web sites. There is a particular emphasis on sites which contain substantive law (legislation, case reports, treaties, etc) and related materials (reports, codes of practice, official guidance, etc). Apart from a few subscription services, which are clearly indicated, all of the sites linked to are free. The content of the site is selected, annotated and updated by information professionals on the staff of the Inner Temple Library in London.
Current Awareness from the Inner Temple Library provides up-to-date information on new case law, changes in legislation and legal news. It provides a very user friendly (but authoritative) summary of key cases each day. A full list of sources is provided and the information is fully categorised. You can subscribe with RSS and get alerts every day. You can also receive “normal” email alerts, follow the blog on Twitter, get the Widget or follow on Facebook.
House of Lords Judgments are available from 1996 to 2009 as an archive, sorted by title within year. 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.
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. 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 then available via WorldLII.
JustCite is a UK based multi-source legal search engine and citator service from independent publisher Justis that helps you find leading authorities and establish the current status of the law. JustCite’s legally-trained editors mark up the relationships between documents, so you can see how a case has been subsequently treated, which cases were cited in judgment, or how a piece of legislation has been amended and interpreted in the courts. When you have found a document you want to read, JustCite shows you where it exists on the legal web, whether on free sites like BAILII, or subscription services such as LexisNexis and Westlaw. The JustCite “Precedent Map” is an interactive tool for visualising and navigating through case law relationships. JustCite is a subscription service but the search functionality is free.
JustisOne is a new product from Justis Publishing, building on the successful Justis and JustCite products. Justis Publishing is in the process of developing a free service which will provide users with a selection of cases from the extensive collection on JustisOne. This will also allow users to benefit from some of the advanced technology used in JustisOne at no cost.
Scottish Courts provides many recent Court Opinions of importance since 1998. The 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.
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 and a number of other series including the Weekly Law Reports, 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. You can search for any case summarised as a WLR Daily from 2009 onward (take the case summaries option) and you can also link to it from the free transcript on BAILII. There is also a case name/citation search for any law report published by ICLR since its formation in 1865, with an option to buy a court-ready PDF for just £12. The website has recently been updated to include a lot of new information about law reports and how to use them and a section called user tips (from the blog).
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. It provides a database of selected and important Scottish cases from 1873 to 2010, as an open access resource. The cases, specially elected by leading academics, cover the full range of legal subjects. The council has teamed up with Justis to run the archive using JustCite. The SCLR commissioned a 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. As part of their objective of making Scots law reports widely available the SCLR has been capturing important historical Scots law reports, including those in Morison’s Dictionary and the Scottish Appeal Cases, and making these available free of charge. These materials can be found, inter alia, on BAILII’s Historic Scottish Law Reports pages.
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. There is now also a UK Human Rights Blog written by members of 1 Crown Office Row, for more immediate comment and news.
Delia Venables is joint editor of the Newsletter.