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Case Law: How to find and use case law: Citations to case law

What is case law? Where can you find Scottish and English case law? How can you check the status of case law?
Note about Legal Citations

N.B. These are examples of citations you may see. For guidance on how to cite sources in your own work, refer to a style guide, for example:

Citations to case law

A case citation is the way in which a case is referenced in order to allow lawyers to both find a copy of a case report or transcript and to identify a specific case.

Traditional case citations

Traditionally, the citation refers to where a judgment is reported. It indicates the case name and the report series, the year and/or volume, and the page at which the report begins. You can use this information to find a case in the printed volumes in the Library. It takes the form:

Cadder v HM Advocate 2011 SC (UKSC) 13

Cadder v HM Advocate 2011 SC (UKSC) 13
case name (party names) year (and / or volume) report series (abbreviated) page the case begins

The parties were called Cadder and HM Advocate and a report of the case starts at page 13 of the 2011 Session Cases (UK Supreme Court cases). Each series of reports has a specific abbreviation.

Because a single judgment may be reported in more than one series of reports, there may be several citations for the same case. For example, the above case was also reported at: Cadder v HM Advocate 2010 SLT 1125.

An example of a case which includes a volume number in the citation is:

Campbell v Mirror Group Newspapers Ltd [2004] 2 AC 457

Campbell v Mirror Group Newspapers Ltd [2004] 2 AC 457
case name (party names) year volume report series (abbreviated) page the case begins

The parties were called Campbell and Mirror Group Newspapers and a report of the case starts at page 457 of volume two of the 2004 Law Reports Appeal Cases.


Neutral citations

More recently, because transcripts of judgments now become available online quickly, and because lawyers need to refer to cases which have not yet been reported, a system of ‘neutral citations’ has been developed. These do not refer to a report of a case but to the judgment itself. A neutral citation indicates the case name, the court hearing the case, the year of the judgment and the case number:

Cadder v HM Advocate [2010] UKSC 43

Cadder v HM Advocate [2010] UKSC 43
party names (case name) year court case number

Neutral citations can be used to identify a case and to locate a transcript (or subsequent report) using online services such as Westlaw, Lexis®Library, or BAILII.


Some referencing styles (e.g. OSCOLA) may require that both the neutral citation and the most authoritative report are included in the case citation:

Cadder v HM Advocate [2010] UKSC 43, 2011 SC (UKSC) 13

and that cases which do not have a neutral citation include an abbreviated reference to the court:

Page v Smith [1996] AC 155 (HL)

Where to find citation information

You can usually find the information you need to cite the case on the first page of the report:

First page of case report with citation information highlighted

Alternatively, you can find this in records in databases (e.g. Westlaw UK):

Westlaw record for case with citation information highlighted

Brackets in traditional citations

You may notice that case citations use different brackets or no brackets at all round the year. The use of brackets depends on whether the report is Scottish or English and whether the year is strictly required in order to find the case in printed volumes.

Scottish reports

For Scottish cases, if the year is in round brackets then it is not strictly required to locate the case as the series has consecutively numbered volumes. If the year is not in brackets then it is required to locate the case.

Hislop v Durham (1842) 4 D 1168 - year not required to locate case

MacLeod v Kerr 1965 SC 253 – year required to locate case

English reports

For English cases, if the year is in square brackets then it is required to locate the case. If the year is in round brackets then it is not strictly required to locate the case as the series has consecutively numbered volumes.

Campbell v Mirror Group Newspapers Ltd [2004] 2 AC 457 - year required to locate case

Young v Wilson (1955) 72 RPC 351 - year not required to locate case

How can I find out what a legal abbreviation means?

Online
In print

Online sources of case law

Common law report abbreviations

Session Cases

This is the most authoritative series of Scottish reports. Early volumes of Session Cases are cited by a single letter abbreviation of the names of their editors.  For example:

5 S 390       (5th volume edited by Shaw page 390)

7 D 346       (7th volume edited by Dunlop page 346)

10 M 120     (10th volume edited by Macpherson page 120)

17 R 931      (17th volume edited by Rettie page 931)

4 F 297        (4th volume edited by Fraser page 297)

You will often be given a year too, but you can find the case without it.


From 1907 onwards this series is cited as SC e.g. 1995 SC 471

Within each volume of Session Cases there are now several separately numbered page sequences. Each page sequence reflects the court in which the case was heard.

For example:

SC (PC)       - Session Cases (Privy Council)

SC (HL)       - Session Cases (House of Lords)

JC                - Justiciary Cases

SC               - Session Cases

SC (UKSC)  - Session Cases (UK Supreme Court)

Remember to make sure you are looking in the correct section!


Scots Law Times

Sections in Scots Law Times also have distinct abbreviations, e.g.:

SLT                  -  Reports (from superior courts)

SLT (Sh Ct)      -  Sheriff Court reports

SLT (Land Ct)  -  Land Court reports

SLT (Land Tr)   -  Lands Tribual reports

SLT (Lyon)        -  Lyon Court reports

SLT (News)       -  News section (contains articles not cases)


Other Scottish reports

SCLR - Scottish Civil Law Reports

SCCR - Scottish Criminal Case Reports


The Law Reports (published by ICLR)

This is the most authoritative series of English reports. The Incorporated Council of Law Reporting for England and Wales Law Reports is comprised of several component parts, each with their individual abbreviation. For example:

AC    - Law Reports Appeal Cases                      

Ch     - Law Reports Chancery Division

Fam  - Law Reports Family Division                 

QB    - Law Reports Queens Bench Division

In the Andersonian Library these component parts are all shelved under Law Reports in the alphabetical reports sequence then alphabetically by component part.


All England Law Reports

All ER - All England Law Reports


Other abbreviations
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