British Legal Research

Please Note: Not all the material listed in these tutorials is available for consultation at the library while we are in our temporary location. Some material is in the Robarts library and some is in storage. Please check the library catalogue to ensure that the material you are looking for is available.

  1) Why Use U.K. Legal Materials?
  2)  Differences between English and Canadian law
  3) Secondary Legal Materials 
  4) Caselaw
  5) Noting Up Cases
  6) Legislation
  7) Research Guides

1) Why Use English Legal Materials?

The English legal tradition is the foundation of Canadian law and Canadian legal principles. Decisions of the English Court of Appeal and the House of Lords are still influential in Canadian courts. English textbooks and journal articles on common law issues are often used in Canadian Law Schools.

2) Differences between Canadian and English Law

There is no written constitution in England; constitutional law is derived from a combination of case law, legislation and convention. Consequently, courts do not have the abilty to overturn or quash a statute passed by parliament on the basis of its unconstitutionality.

3)  Secondary Legal Resources (Books, Journals, Encyclopedias, etc)

  • Books: Many of the classic British textbooks, such as Chitty on Contracts which is in its 33rd edition, are still highly persuasive in Canadian legal research, especially in areas of common law. In certain research situations it may be useful to consult some of these textbooks.
  • Law journals:
    • The Legal Journals Index, indexes articles from legal journals published in the United Kingdom and Europe and journals covering topics pertaining to the laws of the European Community and of its Member States. Available on WestlawNext Canada with some links to full text. 
  • Encyclopedias: provide a good overview of the law and include references to primary resources.

    Halsbury's Laws of England  (Call Number: Dig. UK A2 H25)

Halsbury's Laws of England (4th and 5th editions) is the classic English legal encyclopedia. Halsbury's summarizes the law in essay form with citations to supporting statutes and cases in footnotes. Available on LexisAdvance Quicklaw

Composition of Halsbury's in Print

Main Work

  • Each Halsbury's volume contains subject titles with cross references to other relevant paragraphs and references to case law, legislation and texts in the footnotes
  • Each volume also contains a number of finding tools, including tables of contents, statutes, cases and a keyword index for each title in the volume
  • The Consolidated Index provides comprehensive access to the contents of each title. After looking up the subject that interests you in the index, turn to the volume(s) and paragraph number(s) of the Main Work which contain the appropriate information
  • Each title is updated by

    • Annual cumulative supplement: check under the relevant volume and paragraph numbers
    • Monthly Current Service/noter up binder: check under the "Noter Up" tab for your volume and paragraph numbers to for the most recent information available
    both of which are arranged in the same order as the main work, by volume, title and paragraph number

Additional Resources

  • Consolidated Table of Statutes: including any Canadian statutes mentioned.
  • Consolidated Table of Cases
  • Annual Abridgment: which summarizes all the changes in the law during a particular year as well as provides a list of selected periodical articles written on each subject during that year. The library's subscription was cancelled in 1996.

The Bora Laskin Law Library also has asubscription to 3rd edition of Halsbury's Laws of England. Canadian legal researchers can benefit by checking the 3rd edition because:

  • it emphasizes British common law while the 4th edition highlights recent legislative developments, something of less interest to most Canadian legal researchers
  • the 3rd edition has an updated `"Canadian converter" volumes which provide citations to Canadian case law

4)  UK case law research 

Courts in the United Kingdom

Since 2005, the Court of Appeal, the High Court, the Crown Court, the magistrates' courts, the county courts and the Probate Service in England and Wales have been administered by Her Majesty's Courts and Tribunals Service. Scotland has its own court structure administered by the Scottish Court Service as does Northern Ireland. l  In October 2009, the judicial functions of the House of Lords were transferred from the House of Lords to the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom for English, Welsh and Northern Irish appeals in civil and in criminal cases and Scottish civil appeals only. The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom is now the highest court of appeal in the UK. 

Finding Case Law using Digests

Digests are used as a tool for locating cases much the same way that journal indexes aid in locating journal articles. The advantage of using case law digests over full text searching is that each case has been reviewed, classified, and compiled by topic with other similar cases.

A typical digest entry includes:

  • Style of Cause or Case Name
  • Brief synopsis of the case
  • Citation or link to the full text of the case
  • Subject Headings or Key Numbers
The Digest  in print

Call Number: Dig U.K. A2 D54 - Course Reserves

Available only in print The Digest (formerly the English and Empire Digest) provides digests of all the cases from the courts of England and Wales, as well as many cases from Scotland, Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India, South Africa, the West Indies and cases concerning European Community Law. The Digest follows the same arrangement of subject titles used in Halsbury's Laws of England, and each subject is cross referenced to the fourth edition of Halsbury's Law of England and/or Halsbury's Statutes of England.

Access to case law is made available through either the "Consolidated Table of Cases" or the annual "Consolidated Index" (organized by subject).

The Digest is accompanied by an annual "Cumulated Supplement" also organized by subject which includes an updated "Table of Cases" for those cases digested after the publication of the "Consolidated Table of Cases."

The Digest also provides annotations which enable the user to quickly and easily "note-up" a case by providing its judicial history.

Note: As the Digest is updated, old volumes are replaced by reissued volumes. New case numbers can be found by using the Reference Adaptors at the end of the reissued volumes. The Reference Adaptors list the replaced case numbers and the reissued case numbers side by side.

Electronic Sources of Full Text Case Law


ICLR Online from The Incorporated Council of Law Reporting includes official reports of cases : 

  • The Law Reports
    This series contains semi-official reports of the decisions of the superior courts. It was originally published in 11 divisions and is now published in 4. The database includes reports from the older as well as the modern divisions.
  • Appeal Cases
    Contains reports of cases decided by the House of Lords and the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. (Prior to 1949, Canadian appeals to the Privy Council were reported in this series).

  • Chancery Division
    Estates, mortgages, deeds, contracts for land, winding-up of companies, bankruptcy, landlord and tenant disputes, etc.

  • Queen's Bench Division
    Tort, contract, commercial and criminal matters, contentious probate, and admiralty. The Family Division has jurisdiction over matrimonial cases, wardship and non-contentious probate.

  • Family Division
    Formerly know as the Probate Division
  • The Weekly Law Reports
  • Industrial Cases Reports
  • Business Law Reports
  • Public and Third Sector Law Reports


vLexJustis is a database containing U.K. and European Union case law and legislation available only to the U of T community from computers on campus. Case law is searchable by date, parties, citation, keyword or subject. The database includes:

  • The English Reports

    Prior to 1865, law reports were published commercially by private reporters whose reports bore their names (the nominate reports). Most of these are reprinted the English Reports, cited E.RJustis includes A searchable database of the cases reported in the 176-volume English Reports between 1220 to 1873. Note: As of November 2008, the same collection of English Reports are now also available online through and on Hein Online.

    Because these cases are reprinted you might see two different citations.  One to the original nominate report or the other to the ER volume itself.  Both Justis and Hein will allow searching by either citation.

  • England and Wales Civil Appeal Judgments
  • England and Wales Criminal Appeal Judgments
  • Criminal Appeal Reports
  • The Times Law Reports
  • English Reports
  • Electronic Session Cases
  • State Trials

Westlaw  Canada

To locate caselaw on WestlawNext Canada go to the International Tab and scroll down to Other International Materials > United Kingdom and then select the All United Kingdom Cases link  and search using Boolean or natural language searching. In the alternative, you can search for a specific case by citation using the advanced search function.

LexisAdvance Quicklaw

Full text English caselaw is also available on LexisAdvance Quicklaw. To Browse, under the "Source Directory" tab, select United Kingdom from the "Filter by Country" drop down menu and then select from the list of databases - which include the All England Reports Reprints from 1558 to 1935 and the Law Reports from 1865 to current as well as reports from Scottish and Northern Irish Courts. If you know what source you are looking for you can also search the source directory directly.

 Free Online Sources

5) Noting Up Cases

Always "Note up" your cases to verify whether a particular case is still good law; that it has not been reversed on appeal or criticized or overruled by subsequent cases.

ICLR Citator Plus

From the Incorporated Council of Law Reporting, Citator Plus  is searchable by case name, subject matter or citation.  It provides a case's appellate history, current status and judicial consideration.


The JustCite database is searchable by parties, citation, court, year and/or subject and notes up U.K. and E.U cases and legislation. It also provides links between related cases, legislation and journal articles. This service is only available from computers at the Law Library or the Faculty of Law.

Westlaw Canada

The United Kingdom Case Law Locator database of reported and unreported U.K. and E.U. cases provides the judicial history direct and indirect history. It does not however provide access to full-text cases

Current Law Case Citator
Call Number: Dig. U.K. A2 S36

Provides the judicial history of cases from 1947 to present digested in the Current Law Service including the Current Law Yearbook.

6)  British legislation (Statutes and Statutory Instruments)  

British statutes, have not offficially been consolidated and so you will need to locate the original statute, and all subsequent amending statutes, which must be read together to give you the statute in its current form. Citation of U.K. Legislation is complex so please refer to  the McGill Guide for instructions.

Official is the official source for UK Legislation


  • All legislation and statutory instruments  from 1988 and most primary legislation from 1267 including original and revised versions where available.


UK Statutes and Statutory Instruments (JUSTIS)


  • The UK Statutes database contains the full text of all Acts of Parliament in England, Wales and Scotland from the Magna Carta to the present day. All Acts appear as enacted, with links to amended and amending legislation allowing the user to trace the development of the law
  • The UK Statutory Instruments database contains the full text of statutory instruments (regulations) issued from January 1, 1987 to the present, together with tables, diagrams and maps. Statutory instruments issued by the Scottish Parliament are included.

BAILII, the British and Irish Legal Information Institute


  • Public General Acts of the United Kingdom Parliament (1801 to 1900)
  • Acts of the Parliament of Great Britain (1707 - 1800)
  • Acts of the English Parliament (1267 - 1706)
  • Acts of the pre-UK Parliaments (1424 - 1707)
  • Acts of the Irish Parliament (1495 - 1800


  •  Statutes of the Realm from 1225 to 1713

To locate a statute and its amendments, consult the Chronological Table of the Statutes (Call Number: Stat. UK. A1 A13 Index ) which lists all statutes passed and any later amending acts. The statutes are listed according to the year they were passed.

7)  Research Guides



  • Clinch, Peter. Legal Research: A Practitioner's Handbook. 2nd ed. London : Wildy, Simmonds & Hill Publishing, 2013.
    KD392 .C546 2013
  • Elliott, Catherine and Frances Quinn. English Legal System. 9th ed. Harlow, England, 2008.
    Call Number: KD 662 .E45 2008 LAW
  • Ward, Richard. Walker & Walker's English Legal System. 10th ed. London : Butterworths, 2008.
    Call Number:  KD7100 .W35 2008 LAW