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Mechanics of precedent - law reporting

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Law reporting.


In courts of Criminal Jurisdiction


Pronounced "Against"




R "The Crown"




R "The Crown"




E.g. child defendant, or rape etc, parties are anonymous until conviction (identity is revealed of some children convicted)





Proceedings started by summons and not by arrest, or privately.

Civil Actions


Pronounced "And"







Divorce or child involved, parties remain anonymous





Re: Tempest

Probably a deceased person so technically no defendant

"In the matter of"

The Wagon Mound

A shipping case is always known by the name of the defendant ship.

Letters in case name

Case heard in



European Court of Justice



European Court of Human Rights



House of Lords

Apellate Committee of


Privy Council

Judicial Committee of


Court of Appeal

Criminal or Civil Division


Queen's Bench Division of the High Court



Chancery Division of the High Court



Family Division of the High Court



Divisional Court of the High Court

So we know it is an appeal

Crown Ct

A Crown Court judgment

Usually when a High Court judge is sitting

n.b. "Judgement" is spelt "judgment" by lawyers.

Effectiveness depends on the availability of full and accurate reports

The effectiveness of a doctrine of precedent based on stare decisis depends in large measure on the availability of full and accurate reports of decided cases. There has never been in England any official or systematic attempt at compiling law reports. The law reporting that exists today has simply evolved by private enterprise through three periods of development.



Means the process of following earlier cases, also the report of the case itself is called a precedent.

Year Books (about 1275 to 1535)

The Yearbooks are anonymous reports, compiled annually, and written by hand in French. Some were later printed but most remained in manuscript. The Yearbooks are rarely cited in court now, as they are of no practical use in modern times. They are, however, useful in the study of the medieval common law.


Private (or named) reports (1535 to 1665)

Individuals, for commercial publication. compiled the private reports. Most of the private reports are referred to by the name of the reporter. They are cited by recognised abbreviations. Thus, the reports compiled by Sir Edward Coke between 1572 and 1616 are known as Coke's Reports, abbreviated to Co Rep.

Holt CJ (1704) exemplifies the judicial frustration with bad private reporting:

"See the inconveniences of these scrambling reports, they will make us appear to posterity for a parcel of blockheads".

Modern reports (1865 to the present)

The private reports were often criticised. They were expensive to buy. Some of them were never printed and had to be cited in manuscript form. There was too much overlapping in that the same case might be reported in two or more series. Their usefulness to the legal profession was reduced by the inordinate length of time taken to report some important decisions. They were, for the most part, unreliable.


Incorporated Council of Law Reporting for England and Wales.

Because of dissatisfaction with the private reports, a council was established comprising representatives of the four Inns of Court and the Law Society with the Attorney-General and Solicitor-General as ex officio members.


The council's reports called The Law Reports, were first published in 1865 and eventually absorbed the private reports.


In 1870 the Council was incorporated as a company and became known as the Incorporated Council of Law Reporting for England and Wales.

Since 1953, the Incorporated Council of Law


In the High Court and Court of Appeal if the Incorporated Council of Law Reporting for England and Wales has published a Law Report that counsel which to quote, then they must use that report and only if the Council has not reported it may they use another source.
Practice Direction here


The Weekly Law Reports (WLR)

Since 1953, the Incorporated Council of Law Reporting for England and Wales has published The Weekly Law Reports (WLR).


All England Law Reports

(All ER) published since 1936 by Butterworths.

Specialist series of law reports

Tal Cases (TC or Tax Cas) published by the Inland Revenue and Reports of Patent, Design and TradeMark Cases (RPC) published by the Patent Office. Lloyds Law Reports (Lloyd's Rep).


Stanley v International Harvester co. of Great Britain Ltd (1983) CA

Sir John Donaldson MR complained about the indiscriminate citing of computer-recorded cases, which contains no new law.


[ ] –v- ( )

Since 1891, the year of publication of a volume of The Law Reports has appeared in square brackets and is part of the reference to that volume without which a case cannot be traced. Round brackets indicate the year of the hearing.


Smith Bernal

Internet reporting of cases. All courts.


House of Lords website

House of Lords judgments available on the internet.
House of Lords.


Her Majesty’s Courts Service website

Cases the Court Service Website are chosen by the judge for publication.
The Court Service.


Paid for by lawyers

Comprehensive searchable linked cases.

The Times

Citable cases found at
The Times.

Butterworths legal publishers

Useful recent case summaries


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