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Case Law: How to find and use case law: Precedent
What is case law? Where can you find Scottish and English case law? How can you check the status of case law?
Judicial precedent operates under the principle of stare decisis which literally means “to stand by decisions”. This principle means that a court must follow and apply the law as set out in the decisions of higher courts in previous cases.
A court in handing down a judgment may consider a previous decision in several ways. A previous decision may be:
Approved - A higher court may state that another case heard by a lower court was correctly decided.
A decision may beApplied - A court may apply the reasoning of a previous case in a current case, where the facts are different from those of the previous case.
A decision may beFollowed - A court may be bound by a previous decision where the material facts were substantially the same as in the instant case.
Or a decision may beDistinguished - A court may not follow a previous and otherwise binding decision because there is a difference in, for example, the material facts. The previous case remains good law.
In some instances a decision may beDisapproved - A higher court may state that another case heard by a lower court was wrongly decided. The court indicates that the previous case may not be good law - but does not expressly overrule it.
Alternatively a previous decision may beDoubted - A court while not expressly overruling a previous case may give reasons to show that it may have been wrongly decided.
Or a decision may beNot followed - A court may choose not to follow the decision of a court of coordinate jurisdiction where the material facts were substantially the same as the instant case.
Finally, a decision in a different case may beOverruled - A court may expressly overrule the ratiodecidendi of an inferior court’s decision in another case.
In addition, if a case is appealed to a higher court, the decision of the lower court may be:
Affirmed– The same case is held to have been correctly decided by the lower court. It is good law.
Or a decision may beReversed – The same case is held to have been wrongly decided by the lower court. It is not good law.
Furthermore, under the doctrine of parliamentary supremacy, a decision in a case may be supersededby legislation.
Importantly, if a case has been reversed, overruled (or superseded by legislative provisions) it is no longer good law and should not be relied on as authority.
Online sources of case law
WestlawWestlaw provides full-text access to a variety of legal information, including many UK cases, UK and Scottish legislation, a number of UK legal journals and EU materials. Westlaw's Journals search provides abstracts from articles from UK-published journals, including articles not available in full-text on Westlaw. Non-UK material is available by selecting 'International' from the Region drop-down menu at the top of the home page.
When accessing the new Westlaw UK platform for the first time you will additionally be required to provide name and email. Please enter your University of Strathclyde email address. Thomson Reuter’s privacy statement is available via a link at the bottom of this 'Add personal information' page.
Lexis LibraryLexis Library provides full-text access to legal, tax and accountancy information. This includes many U.K. reported and unreported cases, legislation, and a number of U.K. legal journals. Commentary includes the Stair Memorial Encyclopaedia and Halsbury’s Laws of England. In force legislation relating to England and Wales as well as that from the Scottish Parliament is included, but some pre-devolution U.K. legislation applying solely to Scotland is excluded. Material from non-U.K. jurisdictions is available under the ‘Sources’ tab. The service includes Lexis Tax & Accountancy (formerly Butterworths Tax News Online and Tax Libraries Online). Connect to Lexis Library and choose the 'Practice Areas' tab. Then click on the Tax & Accountancy option.
JustisOneJustisOne is a legal research platform which provides access to case law and legislation as well as supplementary information.
JustisOne's search and analysis tools enable you to find cases and legislation from across many other services and publishers, including Westlaw, Lexis Library, HeinOnline, and BAILLI.
We have access to the UK core module, Session Cases Archive (1821-1872) and Immigration Appeal Reports on JustisOne.
HeinOnlineHeinOnline is a legal research database. The University’s subscription includes access to the ‘Law Journal Library’, ‘Scottish Legal History’ and ‘English Reports, Full Reprint’ databases. All content within HeinOnline is image-based in PDF format and fully searchable.