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Case Law: How to find and use case law: How to check the status of case law online
What is case law? Where can you find Scottish and English case law? How can you check the status of case law?
Case law, like legislation, can change over time. Just because a decision was good law once does not mean it remains so today. A lawyer needs to be able not only to find and read case law, but also to be able to check whether it has been subject to subsequent judicial consideration and whether it remains good law.
Tools for checking a case's status
Online services offer functions to help you check the status of a case. Westlaw contains “Case Analysis” documents and Lexis®Library contains “Case Overview” documents. These documents include information about where a case is reported, whether it has been judicially considered or referred to in later cases, and citations to other cases referred to in the case.
The principal traditional printed aids to locating and checking case law are the Current Law Case Citator, Year Book and Monthly Digest.
Video: Checking the status of a case
How to check the status of a case on Westlaw
How to check the status of a case on Westlaw UK
The Case Analysis helps you check whether a case can still be relied on as good law:
Find the case through the Cases search.
Select the link to the ‘Case Analysis’ in the relevant record.
Look at the ‘Appellate History’ and (under 'Primary References') ‘Key Cases Citing’ sections. These indicate whether the case has been overruled, reversed, affirmed or otherwise considered.
Tip: A red warning icon is also displayed at the top of records for cases which are no longer good authority.
How to check the status of a case on Lexis Library
The 'Case Overview' document helps you check whether a case can still be relied on as good law.
From the Cases search screen, select the ‘Case Overview’ link (in the left of the screen).
Find the case using the Case Overview search.
Follow the link to the relevant Case Overview document.
Look at the ‘Case history’ and ‘Cases referring to this case’ sections. These indicate whether the case has been overruled, reversed, affirmed or otherwise considered.
Tip: A red warning icon is also displayed in records for cases which are no longer authority.
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 following the link to 'Westlaw International' from the homepage.
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.