What are the different primary and secondary sources of Law UK research?

In brief

  • This article covers the different types of Primary and Secondary sources based on UK laws and statutory
  • Also, this article provides useful Information on how and where to find these sources

Keywords: Legal law research, primary sources, secondary sources

Legal research can be defined as the process by which Law-related Information is discovered and collected which in turn helps in making legal decisions. In a legal research, each phase has a course of action that starts with an examination of the facts of an issue and ends with the implementation and presentation of the investigation results (Steven M. Barkan et al., 2015). In the beginning, gaining expertise in legal research is to attain understanding of the types of materials that constitute “the law,” and the connections between these resources. While investigating a legal issue, it is also appropriate to examine laws (legislative enactments), cases (judicial opinions), and/or statutory documents (regulations and decisions of administrative agencies). All these resources are considered as “primary sources.” However, most researchers look for at least one additional resource, called “secondary sources,” to assist their investigation or research. Mostly, sources used in Legal Research are Primary Sources and Secondary Sources.


Primary sources refer to the laws themselves which comes from the official bodies and it generally includes treaties, court decisions, tribunals, statutes, regulations, court records, legal texts and government documents. The following are the forms of primary forms of UK law sources:

  • Case law provided by the courts
  • Legislation passed by Parliament

 Case Law

Case law comprises of the decisions made by the courts and are published as “law reports” which are considered as the primary and fundamental sources of UK laws. The effective Implementation of the law depends on producing accurate law reports which contain the facts, issues and decisions as well as the legal principles on which the judgment is rendered. The doctrine of judicial precedents is a peculiar characteristic of English law, where the court judgments recorded are a valid source of law for future decisions.

Law Reports: A law report can be characterized as the reprint of the full text comprising of the judgment, statement of facts and the judicial decisions and reasoning made by the judges and further comprises of the additional materials such as a legislations referred for the case, summary of the legal issues and a list of cases cited for that issue. There are many different series of law reports and some of the most authoritative series are mentioned here are read by the judges before the Publication of law Reports and corrected by the judges to ensure high accuracy and precision. The series are as follows: Appeal Cases (AC), Family (Fam), Queen’s Bench (QB), Chancery Division (Ch)

Weekly Law Reports: These are published to serve as a draft copy of the cases that will be updated into the official Law Reports. They also announce other cases that will not appear in the Law Reports. They are not adjudicated by judges and do not include the claims of lawyers.

All England Law: These are the collection of reports most commonly cited for recent cases. They are not, however, corrected by courts, and do not include the claims of counsel.

Specialist series: Covers a particular subject area of law, e.g. Criminal Court Reports, Environmental Law Reports, Business Law Proceedings, Family Law Reports, etc.

English Reports: The English Reports series covers most proceedings before 1865; it can be found online for free and there are several websites which offer free access to selected case laws:




The UK lacks a clear, written constitution and it was also described as “partially written and totally uncodified.”  Most of its parts are written based on the laws passed by the parliament.    Such laws come in the form of legislation (unless otherwise stated) that is applicable to the whole of the UK. Parliament is the UK’s highest legislative body and only Parliament has the power to pass any legislation it desires. These laws are equivalent to all other legal sources and cannot be questioned in the courts.

Draft legislation (Bills): Proposals for new Laws or changes to current law are done in the form of Bills. Every year, there are hundreds of Bills submitted to Parliament and just a handful of them become real law.

Primary Legislation: Includes Acts of Parliament or Statutes (the terms are interchangeable) and passed by Parliament. Statutes set the general policy to the Parliaments in a specific region.

Delegated legislation: Requires legislative documents which are made by individuals acting under the authority of the Parliament under the powers granted by the Acts to fill in the specifics and to set out exactly how the acts will operate.

Sources of legislation: They can be found in print as well as in online.

  • Public General Acts & Measures
  • Halsbury’s Statutes

 Freely available online: There are various websites where one can access the selected legislations for free:

  • gov.uk (http://www.legislation.gov.uk)
  • British and Irish Legal Information Institute (BAILII) (http://www.bailii.org/)


Secondary sources of law are considered as the background resources.  They illustrate, describe and they evaluate and analyze. They comprise of the encyclopedias, amendments to the law, treatises, and restatements. Secondary sources are a good way to begin research, and often have primary sources citations. They argue about the law but they are not the law itself. Secondary sources, includes Encyclopedias, Law Journals, and Treatises, and are a great place to begin your legal research. Like primary materials, secondary sources can help you learn about a legal field, and include references to applicable primary resources.

Law Journals

The scope of journals is huge. Most are general while others cover a particular field of law. Some have weighty scholarly claims; others are newsletters that aim to update the law to practitioners. Many publications contain a combination of studies and case commentaries that can help you clarify the complexities of legal issues. Law journals can be found in:

  • Print Search the SOAS library catalogue (http://lib.soas.ac.uk) for the journal title. Alternatively, search InforM25 (http://www.inform25.ac.uk/Link/) for other library catalogues if SOAS does not hold the print version.
  • Online via SOAS databases Use the A-Z Electronic Journals Database (http://www.soas.ac.uk/library/resources/a-z/) to access those listed below

The main databases containing Legal Journals are:

  • Westlaw UK
  • Lexis Library
  • Hein Online


Textbooks are among the best places to start researching a legal subject. They comprise of textbooks for students written by academics e.g. Criminal law by Smith & Hogan; books by experts that resemble reference books, e.g. Chitty on Contracts; and Casebooks containing summaries of cases on particular subjects e.g. Cases and Materials by Dine on criminal law. Textbooks can be found In Print

  • InforM25 (http://www.inform25.ac.uk/Link/) can be used for getting material available in London.
  • COPAC (http://copac.ac.uk/) can be used for getting material available in research libraries within the UK.
  • Worldcat (http://soas.worldcat.org/) accessing materials available worldwide.
  • Textbooks can be obtained from a range of suppliers and most eBooks are available via the Library Catalogue but some of the major repositories include: Cambridge Books Online, Ebrary, Brill, UPSO – Oxford (Law Package only) etc

Legal Encyclopedias: Encyclopedias are a great starting point for law study, as it provides key points, cases and legislation:

England and Wales Laws of Halsbury: This provides England and Wales ‘only detailed narrative statement of law. This includes legislation drawn from all sources and is written by or in conjunction with leading lawyers. It is alphabetically arranged by subject.

Parliamentary and Non-Parliamentary publications: It is necessary to understand the context of why a piece of legislation has come into effect or to understand debates about a particular field of law. This material can be found in other publications:

Debates of Parliament: The proceedings and discusses that take place in the House of Commons and House of Lords are published in Hansard – an official list. Hansard is available from Parliament UK (http:/www.parliament.uk/business/publications/)

House of Commons and House of Lords Papers: Reports, transcripts and committee statistics are included. They have been made available from Parliament UK (http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/)

Non-Parliamentary Publications: These include reports and briefing papers from departments and agencies such as Health Department, Defense Ministry, and Justice Ministry etc. Most papers can be found at each department or agency’s website (http://www.direct.gov.uk/)

A typical and often crucial challenge for a new researcher is to get a perspective on how these sources can be applied to a particular subject and how they can be related to one another. A researcher may usually need to check several sources, and use specific techniques for each resource type. A specific problem can require a researcher to review relevant materials at any or all federal, state or local level to further intensify the issue.


  1. Steven M. Barkan, Barbara Bintliff & Whisner, M. (2015). Fundamentals of Legal Research, Tenth Edition. 3rd Ed. [Online]. Available from: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2591470.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *