UK Law Reports
The judgements of the UK courts constitute a very significant source of Irish law. The relative size of the United Kingdom is such that there is a greater volume of precedents available.
Across a wide range of areas, legal precedents /judgements of the English courts are regularly cited and relied on by the Irish courts. This reflects the two Countries common legal heritage. In most non-statutory areas of law, there is very little discernible difference between Irish and English law.
The Irish Constitution has had a significant influence and has opened divergences in some areas. English and Irish Statute law has diverged in many cases. However, many statures are in the same, or similar terms in Ireland and England, for historical reasons and reasons of convenience. The European Union has reinforced uniformity in some areas.
Northern Ireland law is very similar to the Law of the Republic of Ireland in many areas. The jurisdictions were one until 1921 and had identical laws at that point. There were many cases where Northern Ireland precedent will carry great weight in the Republic of Ireland. However, it is a relatively small jurisdiction and there is a correspondingly smaller number of judgements.
Historical Law Reports
The oldest law reports are the “Yearbooks” which date from the 13th century to the 16th century. They were compiled in annual volume, initially in manuscript form. The latest yearbooks went to about 1535. The yearbooks are largely of historical interest only. The reports are largely confined to the facts and the decision and do not contain detailed legal reasoning. They are largely un-indexed.
The Yearbooks were re-published in printed form in the 15th and 16th Century onwards. Abridgements were published privately in the 16th and 17th centuries. They consist of case notes arranged topically, derived from the yearbooks. The Selden Society re-published volumes of the Yearbook series, commencing in the late 19th Century.
From the middle of the 16th Century, until the middle of the 19th Centuries, “nominate” reports were compiled by private reporters and were published under their names. They represented the earliest forms of the modern law report. Although they do not contain the long analysis commonly found in modern law reports, most are reasoned with reference to legal principles and with reference to precedents
The nominate reports varied considerably in their quality. Some early series were published by well-known and eminent lawyers including Dyer and Coke who were senior judges in the 16th and 17th centuries. Others were criticised as less than reliable. Infamously, Espinasse, who published six volumes of reports, was said to hear half the judgment and report the other half
Many of the nominate reports have been republished in a series of approximately 200 volumes, the English reports. These have now been scanned and entered on the BAILII database and represents one of the largest publicly available sets of law reports. The Revised Reports republished nominate reports between 1785 to 1866. Both republished reports on the Common Law and Equity sides.
English Law Reports
The position in respect of the older English judgements is mentioned above. The English Reports, which are now online on the BAILII website republished a large number of the so-called nominate reports, published in the two centuries prior to 1866.
As in Ireland, a modern system of law reporting was established in 1865 in England, under the auspices of the Incorporated Council of Law Reporting. The Council publishes the Law Reports, which like the Irish Reports have a quasi-official status. They are the official reports and preferred source of citation in court. The reports contain a headnote prepared by a barrister and summaries of the arguments of counsel.
The principal series in English law reports comprises the following.
- Appeal cases; cited AC
- Chancery Division; cited Ch
- Queen’s Bench Division; cited QB (King’s Bench during a male monarchy)
- Family division; cited Fam.
A number of other well-known series have been published with headnotes and, in some cases, arguments of counsel. The Weekly Law Reports are published weekly in paperback volumes. They are bound at year-end into 2 to 3 hardback volumes. They are cited WLR. They have been published since 1953 by the Incorporated Council for Law Reporting; the same publishers as the Law Reports. The Weekly Law Report superseded the Weekly Notes published from 1866 to 1952.
The All English Law Reports have been produced by Butterworths. Private publishers, since 1936. They do not contain arguments of counsel but do contain headnotes. The All-England Law Reports Reprints were published by the same publishers, containing 36 volumes of cases in chronological order from the years 1558 to 1935, which continue to have relevance.
The Times Newspaper has produced semi-formal reports of cases for well over a century. The Times Reports have been reprinted in monthly and annual volumes. They are cited TLR. The Law Times Reports were published twice annually, in 200 volumes between 1843 and 1947. They contain most of the same cases in the Law Reports. They were merged with the All England reports.
A significant number of other specialist reports exist, including Criminal Appeal Reports, Family Courts Reports, Family Law Reports and Local Government Law Reports.
There are a number of specialist series published by private publishers. Lloyd’s Law Reports deals principally with shipping and related commercial matters/ It has been published since 1951.
Other specialist reports include the Industrial Relations Law Reports (IRLR), Road Traffic Reports (RTR), (waterworks) Company Law Cases, Simons Tax Cases and tax case.
Each series of reports has its own unique citation.
A 2001 practice direction provided that judgements should be published in a standard pattern. Each case should be assigned a neutral citation so that all cases including unreported cases should be readily identified. The citation has three elements: the date, the court code and the case number
- EWHC (QB) Queen’s Bench High Court
- EWHC (Ch) Chancery Division
- EWHC (Fam) Family division
- EWHC (Admin) Administrative courts/divisional court of the Queen’s Bench
- EWCA (Crim) court of appeal criminal division
- EWCA (Civ) Court of Appeal Civil division
- UKPC Privy Council
- UKHL UK House of Lords
- UKSC UK Supreme Court [post-2009]
Digest and Indexes
The Law Reports have published digests or Indexes covering periodically. The cases are broken into certain areas, thematically.
The most comprehensive digest of cases is published by Butterworths, legal publishers. It was originally known as the English and Empire digest. Its first edition was published between the World Wars with cumulative supplements, up to 1951. The second “blue” edition was published in 1951 and 1970. The third “green” edition was published between 1971 and 1987.
The publication has been known as The Digest for the last 30 years and is now published in soft form by LexisNexis Butterworths. The Digest is a compendium.T he Digest provides summaries of the equivalent of headnotes of over half a million cases from mediaeval times to the present days. It is the only comprehensive index to the principal law reports.
The volumes of the Digest are arranged thematically, dealing with particular legal subject matters. The thematic divisions have changed over time, as circumstances required. Volumes are re-issued from time to time. There are multi-annual cumulative updates.
The Digests include a consolidated list of tables and cases. The subject matter arrangement in the Digest is similar in Halsbury’s Laws of England. Halsbury’s Laws of England is as a comprehensive text dealing with the major subject areas in England and Wales law. It is now in its Fifth Edition.
Northern Ireland Reports
Northern Ireland’s Reports have been published by the Incorporated Council for Law Reporting in Northern Ireland since . The official series is cited, for example, 1971 NI 1.
The Northern Ireland’s Judgements Bulletin is produced monthly and more up-to-date. The reports are cited in NIJB. They have been published since 1996 and comprises some recent reported and unreported cases.
The Northern Ireland Reports run from 1921. Additionally, the Irish Digest include Northern Ireland cases. The Northern Ireland reports are now included in commercial publishers’ reports. Lexis includes Northern Ireland law reports since 1995.
A notable and useful source of Irish law is the website bailii.org. It includes both statutes and cases for each of the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, England and Wales, as well as other jurisdictions since the mid-late 1990s.
It also includes a range of UK and Commonwealth decisions including the English report and several other specialist law reports. It is available free online.
It has also published retrospectively, major judgments in important areas.
McMahon Legal, Legal Guide Limited and Paul McMahon have no liability arising from reliance on anything contained in this article nor on this website.