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Researching case law

Research guide

Updated: 23 Feb 2024 Update History

In this guide we survey a range of sources of case law information, including several which cover tax cases. We focus mainly on the UK, with some pointers as to international sources.

How the Library can help

The ICAEW Library has compiled this guide to help everyone to find case law on topics such as tax, companies, contract, professional negligence, and more.

The Library enquiry team can also research case law on behalf of ICAEW members, ACA students and other authorised users, drawing on a variety of print and online sources. We can find case law by case name (where known) or through subject searches. If you would like to know more about the information we can offer, please call us on +44 (0)20 7920 8620, email library@icaew.com or contact us through webchat.

Identifying and selecting primary sources

The two primary sources of information on case law are transcripts and law reports. The nature and characteristics of these two respective sources are summarised and contrasted in the table below.

Transcripts Law reports

Present 'raw' written and verbatim records of court judgments in an unedited form.

Often available online via free services such as BAILII, and/or via subscription databases (see below).

In some cases a transcript may not be made publicly available, or may only be obtainable from the relevant court on request.

Combine transcript(s) of judgment(s) with additional editorial content, which generally includes catchwords (indexing terms), a headnote summarising the principle of law established by the case, a blocklist setting out the other cases referred to in the judgment(s) and/or cited in argument, and a facts paragraph providing a brief introduction to the case and its history.

Published in series — some general and some specialist.

Produced only for the small minority of judgments which series editors consider to be sufficiently significant (generally because they make a change to the law).

Originally published only in print format; many are now also made available electronically (often via subscription databases).

You should always cite law reports rather than transcripts, if possible — a transcript should be cited only if it contains a statement of legal principle which cannot be found in a report. Where a particular case is covered by more than one law report series, you should cite the series which is considered the most authoritative.

Official guidance on the established hierarchy of law reports in the Senior Courts of England and Wales can be found in Practice Direction: Citation of Authorities, issued by the Lord Chief Justice in 2012. A summary of this guidance can be found in the LexisNexis blog post 'Law reports: Hierarchy and the status of authorities'. Separate guidance applies to the Scottish High Court of Justiciary and Court of Session, and to the Court of Judicature of Northern Ireland. OSCOLA provides guidance on the hierarchy of law reports in other contexts.

Understanding citations and abbreviations

Traditional case citations, such as 'Anisminic Ltd v Foreign Compensation Commission [1969] 2 AC 147', refer to a particular law report. These are generally made up of the following components, in sequence:

  • Case name: the parties involved, separated by 'v' (eg, Anisminic Ltd v Foreign Compensation Commission);
  • Year: the publication year of the report (eg, [1969]);
  • Volume number (if any): the number for the relevant volume in the report series (eg, 2)
  • Report series abbreviation (eg, AC for Appeal Cases, Third Series);
  • Page: the page on which the report begins (eg, 147).

Since some judgments are covered by more than one report series, under this system a single case may be referred to via several different citations. To aid findability, some authors include the abbreviated name of the court in brackets at the end of citations of this kind.

More recently, a system of 'neutral citations' has been developed. Rather than referring to reports, neutral citations — such as 'Royal Mail Group Ltd v Efobi [2021] UKSC 33' — refer to court-issued judgments. These are generally made up of the following components, in sequence:

  • Case name: the parties involved, separated by 'v' (eg, Royal Mail Group Ltd v Efobi);
  • Year: the judgment year (eg, [2021]);
  • Court abbreviation (eg, UKSC for United Kingdom Supreme Court);
  • Case number: unique identifier within that court and year (eg, 33).

Today, it is common to encounter citations which combine a neutral citation with a reference to a particular law report, with the two being separated by a comma — for example: 'Corr v IBC Vehicles Ltd [2008] UKHL 13, [2008] 1 AC 884'.

When seeking to decode the abbreviations used in case citations, the freely accessible Cardiff Index to Legal Abbreviations is generally a good place to start. More comprehensive listings can be found in books such as the Index to Legal Citations and Abbreviations by Donald Raistrick.

Accessing law reports and transcripts

Subscription databases

The Library provides access to a number of subscription databases which contain law reports and transcripts. Members visiting the Library in person can access these databases directly. Our enquiry team can also search them on behalf of members and supply extracts by email within the terms of our licences — please contact us to discuss your requirements.

The table below summarises the respective offerings of each of these databases, in this regard.

Lexis+ Croner-i Tax and Accounting IBFD Tax Research Platform

Includes an extensive range of UK and Irish law reports and transcripts, as well as some from other jurisdictions.

Coverage runs from 1220 to the present.

Notable law report series available through this platform include the Law Reports (ICLR), the All England Law Reports, Simon's Tax Cases, and HMSO Tax Cases. 

Contains a large number of law reports on cases relevant to UK tax (including the full British Tax Cases series), indexed by topic.

Coverage runs from the late nineteenth-century to the present.

Includes cases from all courts from the First-tier Tribunal upwards.

Contains summaries and transcripts for significant domestic tax cases from a range of countries/jurisdictions, as well as ECJ tax cases and tax treaty cases.

Coverage begins in the early nineteenth-century and runs up to the present, though the bulk of the cases covered date from the late twentieth-century onwards.

Some UK cases are included, but this database is most noteworthy for its international coverage.

Other subscription databases (not currently available through the Library) providing electronic access to law reports and transcripts include:

Free online sources

There are many websites which provide free access to transcripts of judgments, and a few which provide free access to historical law reports. Click on the categories below to view a selection of these websites by type.

Print sources in the Library collection

The ICAEW Library holds over 150 series of law reports in print format, including complete sets of the rare Accountant Law Reports and Annotated Tax Cases published by The Accountant. We have produced an annotated index of these series, which cover cover cases from 1485 up to the 2010s:

In addition, the Library also holds some standalone copies of case transcripts/reports, generally for cases considered to be especially significant. These may be browsed via the Library catalogue — see our LibCat help page for guidance.

Requesting a transcript from a court or tribunal

In some cases, transcripts are only obtainable on application to the relevant court or tribunal (often requiring the payment of a fee).

Information on how to apply for a transcript of a court or tribunal hearing can be found on GOV.UK. It is important to note that not all hearings are recorded, and that the relevant court may refuse to provide part or all of a transcript (for instance if special confidentiality requirements apply).

Checking the status of a case

If you need to check the current status of a particular case and ascertain whether it remains 'good law', a wide-ranging subscription database such as Lexis+ (available through the Library enquiry team) or Westlaw UK is generally a good place to start. Case records on these platforms often include a 'case history' or an 'appellate history' section, which should indicate whether the case in question has subsequently been overruled, reversed, affirmed or otherwise considered.

If you do not have access to such a database, case histories can also be tracked using hard-copy citators and digests such as those in the Current Law series — these are held by many academic and specialist law libraries. The free online research tool LawCite, which tracks where particular cases have been cited, may also prove useful.

Finding case summaries and commentary

In addition to the primary sources discussed above (ie, law reports and transcripts), there are a vast array of 'secondary' sources which provide commentary on or summaries of cases. Although these should not be cited in court, they can be useful if you are seeking to keep up-to-date with new developments or to familiarise yourself with the 'state of play' in a given area.

The most appropriate source(s) will likely depend on the topic that you are interested in, as many services and publications focus on particular fields or subjects. You may wish to consider consulting one or more of the following:

  • Bloomsbury Accounting and Tax Service

    Eligible firms have free access to around 80 titles from Bloomsbury Professional's online library — see the Bloomsbury Accounting and Tax Service page for full details. These titles include:

    The service also includes a number of Bloomsbury Professional's tax annuals and handbooks, many of which contain references to relevant case law. Eligible users may access all of the available titles via our A to Z of Bloomsbury eBooks.

    Terms of use: You are permitted to access, download, copy, or print out content from eBooks for your own research or study only, subject to the Acceptable usage terms.

  • Books and digests

    There are various digests and casebooks which provide summaries of and/or extracts from selected cases — the annual Tolley's Tax Cases and Tolley's VAT Cases volumes published by LexisNexis (both held by the Library) are examples of such works.

    In addition, more general works such as handbooks, manuals, textbooks may reference and provide commentary on case law, where relevant.

    The Library collection includes a wide range of titles of both types. For information on our holdings, please see the Library catalogue or contact our enquiry team.

  • Bulletins

    A number of organisations publish bulletins which summarise recent case law developments. These bulletins often focus on particular fields, though some are more general. Examples include:

  • Journals

    The Library holds an extensive collection of print journals, and provides access to more than 3,000 online periodicals. A number of these titles contain commentary on case law.

    Of the journal titles which the Library currently collects in print format, the following are particularly noteworthy in this regard:

    Meanwhile, a range of electronic journal articles on case law are searchable and accessible to members, ACA students and other entitled users via EBSCO Business Source Corporate.

    For more information on our journals and how you can access them, please contact us. Depending on the format, you can get journal articles in print, have copies sent to you via our document supply service, or access articles directly online.

    Beyond the titles held in our collection, there are a vast number of other journals which cover developments in case law. Many individual journal articles relating to legal cases are indexed in LawCite. If you are seeking to consult a journal which we do not hold, it may be worth searching an online database such as Library Hub Discover to find out where it is available.

  • Subscription databases

    There are many subscription databases which contain sources of commentary on case law. Of these, the following are available through the Library enquiry team:

    • Lexis+
      Includes general secondary sources such as Case Overview and Halsbury's Laws, along with a variety of subject-specific sources (such as the ‘Recent cases’ section of Simon’s Weekly Tax Intelligence).
    • Croner-i Tax and Accounting
      Includes ‘What’s New in Cases’ round-ups by topic.
    • IBFD Tax Research Platform
      Provides summaries of significant tax-related cases from around the world.
    • TaxHub
      Contains brief abstracts of a range of significant UK tax cases going back to 2012. 

    Although we are unable to provide direct access to these databases through the website due to licence restrictions, we can search them on behalf of ICAEW members, ACA students and other entitled users. Contact us by phone on +44 (0)20 7920 8620 or by email at library@icaew.com for help or more information.

  • WLR Daily (ICLR)

    The Incorporated Council of Law Reporting for England & Wales (ICLR) publishes short summaries of new judgments on a daily basis. Each summary includes certain additional material, such as cases judicially considered. These summaries are cited under the abbreviation 'WLR (D)' — short for Weekly Law Reports Daily.

    WLR Daily case summaries are available free of charge on the ICLR website.

Selected landmark cases

The Library has dedicated pages setting out resources on the following landmark cases:

In addition, we maintain two pages listing key cases likely to be of interest to members of the Forensic & Expert Witness and Valuation communities, respectively. These pages include links to judgments on the BAILII website, as well as related articles held by the Library.

Our collection also includes material on a number of other cases of significance for accountants and auditors, such as London and General Bank (1895), Re Kingston Cotton Mills (1896), and R v Kylsant & Otrs (1931). For more information on what we can offer, please contact us.

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