Sources of Information
The Library Catalogue - SOLO
Books, journals, reports, yearbooks etc - secondary sources - are important for researching law. To find these, you need to know how to use library catalogues. SOLO is a search and discovery tool for the Oxford Libraries' vast collections of resources. Use SOLO to find printed and online books and journals. It will also locate subscription databases such as Westlaw. An A-Z of databases and Oxford e-journals can also be used for finding databases and online journals respectively.
Encyclopedias & dictionaries
The main authoritative encyclopedia of law for England is Halsbury's Laws of England (in the Bodleian Law Library at K1 and available in LexisLibrary). This multi-volume work, now in its 5th edtion, is updated regularly by supplements. There are also encyclopedias on specific legal topics, such as the Encyclopedia of Planning Law and Practice, many of which are now found in Westlaw or Lexis Library.
Legal dictionaries can be extremely helpful for understanding legal terms and the legal contexts (cases etc) in which they have been used and defined. In the Bodleian Law Library they are shelved at KL40 and Jowitt's Dictionary of English Law,Osborn's Concise Law Dictionary and Stroud's Judicial Dictionary of Words and Phrases can be search via Westlaw's Index of Legal Terms. The New Oxford Companion to Law and the Oxford Dictionary of Law provide general information about law, and are available electronically via SOLO. Some useful works, such as Words and Phrases Legally Defined are only available in hard copy.
Legal textbooks include books of authority, modern textbooks, casebooks, practice books, and precedent books. Many key legal textbooks are available electronically in LexisLibrary (under Commentary) and in Westlaw (under Books). Textbooks of all types are frequently cited in court, but only a small group are regarded as 'books of authority'.
Books of authority
A few, older works written between the late 12th and mid 18th centuries, before the system of law reporting was fully developed, are accepted as reliable statements of the law of their time. Examples include Sir Edward Coke's Institutes of the Laws of England (1628-44) (online) and William Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England (1765 -69) (online).
Textbooks are one of the best starting places for students researching a legal topic. These include textbooks written by academics for students, and practitioners' books that resemble reference books. Many practitioners' books are available on Westlaw or Lexis Library, and may also be published as loose-leaf services.
- Goff & Jones' The Law of Restitution (available on Westlaw)
- Megarry & Wade's The Law of Real Property
- Treitel' s Remedies for Breach of Contract
- Smith & Hogan's Criminal Law
Examples of practitioners' books include:
- Benjamin's Sale of Goods
- Bowstead and Reynolds on Agency
- Chitty on Contracts
- Clerk & Lindsell on Torts
- McGregor on Damages
- Palmer's Company Law
- Woodfall's The Law of Landlord and Tenant
All the practictioners' books listed above are on Westlaw.
Casebooks are an invaluable source of information to students, giving summaries of cases on particular subjects. Examples include:
- Civil Liberties: Cases and Materials, Bailey, Harris & Ormerod
- Cases and Materials on the Law of Restitution, Burrows & McKendrick
- Cases and Materials on International Law, Harris
These are specialised manuals, including statutes and court rules with notes of guidance on their interpretation and application to the practice and procedure of the courts. For example:
- County Court Practice Handbook
- Stone's Justices' Manual (available on Lexis Library)
- Blackstone's Criminal Practice (available on Lexis Library)
- Archbold's Pleading, Evidence & Practice in Criminal Cases (available on Westlaw)
- Supreme Court Practice, known as The White Book (available on Westlaw)
There are basically three types of precedent books:
- practitioners' books that include standard forms and precedents, such as Rayden & Jackson on Divorce and Family Matters (available on Lexis Library)
- collections of forms and precedents for particular courts, such as Precedents for The Conveyancer and Property Lawyer
- two major encyclopaedic collections, Atkin's Encyclopaedia of Court Forms in Civil Proceedings and the Encyclopaedia of Forms and Precedents (both available on Lexis Library)
Cite author(s), the title in italics, then in brackets provide edition number followed by a comma, then publisher and year of publication. References to a specific page follow the closing bracket. For example:
Simon Gardner, An Introduction to Land Law (2nd edn, Hart Publishing 2009).
For a chapter in an edited book, cite the author of the chapter, title of the chapter in single quotation marks, editor(s) of the book, title of the book in italics, then in brackets provide edition number followed by a comma, then publisher and year of publication.
Nicola Lacey, 'Community, Culture and Criminalisation' in Rowan Cruft, Matthew H Kramer and Mark R Reiff (eds), Crime, Punishment and Responsibility: The Jurisprudence of Antony Duff (OUP 2011).
For more information, see OSCOLA.
All publications required by Parliament to carry out its business are published by The Stationery Office. Some official publications are published by the government departments responsible. Increasingly,official documents are held in the National Archive. The Bodleian Law Library houses the Official Papers Section on the ground floor.
Hansard (the Official Reports of Parliamentary Debates) is published by both the House of Lords and Commons and is a verbatim report of what is said in Parliament. It is available online in full text from 1988 for the House of Commons, and back to 1995-96 for the House of Lords, and in hard copy in the Bodleian Law Library.
Law Commission Reports make recommendations for changes to legislation. Green Papers and White Papers often precede legislation and can provide useful background information and discussion. The expressions "White and Green" have no formal definition. Over the years it has become accepted that White Papers are statements of Government policy whereas Green papers are proposals published as an aid to public debate. These papers form a series called Command Papers (Cm) and derive their name from the fact that they are presented to Parliament by a Government Minister "by Command of Her Majesty". This series also contains the numerous Treaties to which the UK is a party, formal Government Responses to Select Committee Reports, and many of the Reports emerging from Committees of Inquiry and Departmental Reviews. These may be of national significance or have great impact on the work of Government bodies. Many of these papers can be found on the TSO site.
The House of Commons Parliamentary Papers (HCPP) database includes over 200,000 House of Commons sessional papers from 1715 to the present, with supplementary material back to 1688.
There is a guide to finding Official Papers here.
There are major loose-leaf works which contain case law, legislation and commentary for most major areas of law. Like textbooks, many works published as loose-leafs are available electronically in LexisLibrary (under commentary) and in Westlaw (under Books). Examples of loose-leafs are:
- British Company Law and Practice
- Palmers Company Law (available on Westlaw)
- Emden's Construction Law (available on Lexis Library)
- Butterworths Wills, Probate and Administration Service (available on Lexis Library)
- Encyclopedia of Local Government Law
- Hill and Redman's Law of Landlord and Tenant (available on Lexis Library)
Journal articles provide commentary on the law, ranging from a critical analysis of a single judgment or piece of legislation to broad legal issues. They are a useful resource for legal research. They are generally published in a timely fashion and can be useful for commentary on new legislation and case law. They can be found in alphabetical order in the 300s section of each jurisdiction in the Bodleian Law Library. Online versions of journals can be found via SOLO.
Journal titles are usually abbreviated. The Cardiff Index is very useful source for finding out what legal abbreviations stand for. Electronic Sources has more information about online journals and indexes.
Citing journal articles:
Cite the author(s), the title of the article within single quotation marks, then year of publication, volume number, abbreviation of journal name, and first page of the article. For example:
Laura Hoyano, 'Policing Flawed Police Investigations' (1999) 62 MLR 912.
For the handful of journals that have no volume number, put the year of publication in square brackets. For example:
Paul Craig, 'Perspectives on Process: Common Law, Statutory and Political'  PL 275.
Working papers and articles that have been accepted for publication but not yet published can be found on SSRN. The Oxford University Law Faculty has a Research Papers Series on SSRN. There is also a Research Paper Series for research students papers.
Books about legal research
There are many good books about legal research in the United Kingdom; two that are held in the Bodleian Law Library are noted below. You will also find similar texts for most jurisdictions in the library.
Peter Clinch, Using a Law Library: a Student's Guide to Legal Research Skills (2nd edn, Blackstone 2001) LAW Main Libr Ref Bibl General UK C641a2
Philip Thomas and John Knowles, Effective Legal Research (2nd edn, Legal skills, Thomson Sweet & Maxwell 2009) LAW Main Libr Ref Bibl Cw UK T461b2