The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland is a constitutional monarchy. It does not have a written constitution, but it does have constitutional law based on statutes, including the Magna Carta, the Bill of Rights, the Union with Scotland Act, the Human Rights Act, many recent statutes on constitutional reforms, and also on the common law.
The United Kingdom has three legal systems: those of England and Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. There is a national, bicameral Parliament, with a House of Lords, House of Commons, and a Prime Minister who is the leader of the majority party or coalition in Parliament. Legislation is proposed by the government, approved by both houses of Parliament, and receives formal Royal assent.
The United Kingdom is a common law system. It has a Supreme Court as a final court of appeal. Prior to October 2009, the highest court was the Law Lords of the House of Lords. In England and Wales, the other courts are the Court of Appeal, High Courts, Crown Courts, and Magistrates’ Courts. The High Courts include Chancery Courts, Family Courts, and Queen’s Bench.
Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own court systems. Scotland has its own separate Parliament. There are also separate Welsh Assembly and Northern Ireland Assembly for local affairs. A referendum on Scottish independence will be held on September 18, 2014.
The United Kingdom is a member of both the European Union and the Council of Europe. European Union law is binding on courts of the United Kingdom. The European Convention on Human Rights is part of the law of the U.K. through the Human Rights Act of 1998.
There are numerous introductory sources on the law of the United Kingdom and on English law. Print resources include:
- Catherine Elliott and Frances Quinn, English Legal System (7th ed. 2006). KD662 .E45 2006.
- Gary Slapper and David Kelly, The English Legal System (7th ed. 2004). KD661 .S56 2004.
- Penny Darbyshire, Eddey and Darbyshire on the English Legal System (6th ed. 2001). KD7325 .E32 2001.
- Ann Lyon, Constitutional History of the UK (2003). KD3934 .L96 2003.
- Robin M. White and Ian Willock, The Scottish Legal System ( 3d ed. 2003). KDC331 .W45 2003.
The MacMillan Law Library’s collection of print primary resources from the United Kingdom can be found in the Granger Hansell Room in Ranges 375-378. However, none of the primary law sets are current, most updated through 2007. There are plentiful online resources for research in British law, both in subscription databases and government websites.
Hein Online's World Constitutions Illustrated: Laws Concerning Constitutional Matters, from the Charter of Liberties of Henry I (1100) and the Magna Carta (1215) to recent laws on constitutional and parliamentary reform. The database includes historical commentaries, scholarly articles available on Hein Online, and a bibliography of select constitutional works.
Oxford Constitutions of the World: Statutes and documents that make up the United Kingdom Constitution, from the Magna Carta to recent acts, with introductions, commentary, and analysis.
The British Library: Magna Carta translation, notes, and history.
UK Case Law
The official reporter is The Law Reports (1865-present) . New cases are reported in the Weekly Law Reports. Unofficial reporters include the English Reports Full Reprint (1220-1865) and All England Law Reports (1558-present, with headnotes). These include opinions from the Supreme Court, House of Lords, Court of Appeal, Chancery, Queen’s Bench, and Family Courts.
Options for finding case law include:
- Supreme Court of the United Kingdom: The website has PDF images of judgments, a decided cases list with citations and links to summaries and judgments and a current cases list with browsable case summaries and a Google custom search box.
- House of Lords Judgments (1996-2009): Archive of House of Lords judgments in PDF.
- BAILII: Free resource for searching British and Irish cases and legislation. Cases can be found by citation, title, or full-text search.
- Courts and Tribunals Judiciary: Recent judgments to search or find by court or date.
- Justis (subscription database): Full-text, searchable case law for the United Kingdom, England and Wales, Scotland, Ireland, and the European Union. Judgments with official neutral citations, frequently with pdf of the official judgments. Case law is available from 1163 to current, including all English courts. Use the search form to search by party names, citation, court, year, subject, headnote, or full text.
- Justcite (subscription database): Companion database to Justis, with a case search and citator. Searches just case names, citations, and keywords assigned to the case, allowing a search by broader terms than on Justis. Lists citing cases, status, and authority, and a graphical precedent map shows related cases. Justcite results include links to the full text in Justis, Westlaw International, and the UK Supreme Court.
- Westlaw: Databases in International Materials include all UK Cases, English Reports, Law Reports, United Kingdom Case Law Transcripts, and Weekly Law Reports. All United Kingdom Current Awareness offers a subject list to find recent cases in areas of the law including torts, insolvency, and finance and banking.
- Lexis: Databases include separate listings for England & Wales and for United Kingdom . England & Wales databases include England & Wales Cases Combined (or limit to current or archive), All England Law Reports, The Law Reports, and UK Cases Combined. Under United Kingdom, find UK Cases Combined Courts, Scots Cases Combined, and Scottish Session Cases, as well as the England & Wales case databases. In Lexis Advance, go to Research>Lexis.com>Find Laws by Country or Region.
- English Reports: English case law from 1220 to 1867 was collected in the English Reports. The English Reports Full Reprint is available in print in the Hansell Room and in subscription databases with pdf images in Hein Online (with Citation Navigator and Case Locator for finding by case name or citation) and LLMC-Digital.
- Hein World Trials: Includes some trial transcripts of famous historical cases from the 17th-20th centuries.
- Anglo-American Legal Tradition (1215-1650): Digitized images of original documents from the U.K. National Archives, handwritten, mostly unindexed, many in Latin.
UK Legislation & Regulations
Print statutory publications, none of them current at Emory, include Public General Acts and Measures, the official publication of statutes with index and tables of acts; and Halsbury’s Statutes of England, an unofficial compilation of statutes in force with annotations. Statutes from 1225-1867 were collected in Statutes at Large, with volumes by year of reign. The library’s print volumes of Statutes at Large are available in Special Collections.
- Legislation.gov.uk: Acts of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, as originally enacted or as revised, plus new legislation. Original legislation is available in pdf. The site includes legislation 1800 to current, complete datasets 1988 to present. The site includes Statutory Instruments (regulations), Public General Acts, Acts of the Scottish Parliament, and Acts of the National Assembly of Wales. You can browse by year, track bills, and find changes made to legislation, amendments, and status. Search options include by title, keywords, and date; browse lists are by year and title. To update legislation, see the tab for Changes to Legislation.
- Parliament.uk: Debates and documents. Find bills before Parliament with status, pdf bills, bil summaries, and new legislation. The site includes current House of Commons debates and bills, a Topics A-Z Index for reports and legislation on legislation, and a chart showing Passage of a Bill.
- Historical Hansard’s Parliamentary Debates can be found on the Hansard site (in text, to browse by year and volume), and as pdf images in the Hathi Trust Digital Library.
- House of Commons Parliamentary Papers (17th century to present) are available as a ProQuest subscription database.
- Justis (subscription database): Full-text and searchable statutes and statutory instruments, parliamentary materials, and the Official Journal of the European Union. Includes statutes of the United Kingdom Parliament, local acts, and Irish Acts and Statutory Instruments. UK Legislation from 1235 to current is available. The site includes pdfs of legislation, status information, and links to Legislation.gov.uk and Westlaw International.
- Justcite: The companion subscription database to Justis. Justcite offers a simple search by title, citation, or keyword, status information,amending acts, citing cases and articles, and links to full text in Justis, Legislation.gov.uk, and Westlaw International.
- Westlaw: Databases under International Materials include United Kingdom Law in Force, Statutes, and Statutory Instruments.
- Lexis: Databases for the United Kingdom include Statutes and Statutory Instruments of England Wales. In Lexis Advance, go to Research>Lexis.com>Find Laws by Country or Region.
- Historical statutes:
- Statutes at Large in Eighteenth Century Collections Online (1225-1800)
- Statutes at Large in Early English Books Online (16th and 17th century volumes)
- Statutes of the Realm 1235-1713 in Hein Online's English Reports Library
- Statutes of the Realm 1628-1701 (as well as other historical publications, including journals of the House of Lords and House of Commons) in British History Online
Other UK Legal Resources
Halsbury’s Laws of England: A legal encyclopedia, alphabetical by topic, with an emphasis on statutes. The MacMillan Law Library's set is updated only through 2009.
The Digest: Annotations of reported case law from England and selected cases from other United Kingdom and Commonwealth countries.
- United Kingdom Foreign & Commonwealth Office: Search U.K. treaties by title words, date, and party. Citations, status, and pdfs of the UK Treaty Series.
- FLARE Index to Treaties: Search index to multilateral treaties 1353 to recent, including treaties from the British publications Bowman & Harris (Multilateral Treaties: Index and Current Status), the Index of British Treaties.
- Westlaw: All United Kingdom Current Awareness offers a subject list to find recent cases in areas of the law including torts, insolvency, and finance and banking.
- Parliament.uk: Parliamentary research material by topic (bills, committee reports, briefing papers)
- BAILII: Leading cases by subject
- Gov.uk: Government publications by keyword, topic, or department
- Ministry of Justice: Guides and reports by topic
- OSCE Legislationline: Topics with statutes include human rights and constitutional law subjects
- University of Kent research guides by topic
- The Lawyer.com
- The Guardian
- The Telegraph
- The Law Society Gazette, including Law Reports for latest case reports from Lexis
- Scottish Parliament: Current bills with status, previous bills alphabetically or by session, bill summaries, and bills passed.
- Scottish Courts: Judgments and information on the courts.
- Legislation.gov.uk: Acts of the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Statutory Instruments.
- Justis: Includes Scottish Session Cases
- Westlaw: Includes Scottish Session Cases, Scots Law in Force, Scottish Statutes, and Scottish Statutory Instruments
- Lexis: Includes Scots Cases Combined, Scottish Session Cases, and Statutes & Statutory Instruments of Scotland. In Lexis Advance, go to Research>Lexis.com>Find Laws by Country or Region.