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UPDATE: A Guide to the UK Legal System

By Sarah Carter
Update by
Hester Swift

 

Sarah Carter has served as Law Librarian at the University of Kent at Canterbury, UK. She has been active in organizing electronic legal information since it became available, and especially since the growth of the World Wide Web. She has written extensively on the subject in the Law Librarian and other publications. She was on the editorial committee of Moys Classification for Legal Materials and contributed to the 3rd edition, published in 1992. Her website LAWLINKS is internationally recognised and has received several awards, including the Wallace Breem Memorial Award from BIALL (British & Irish Association of Law Librarians) in 2000. At the same time she published a book based on LAWLINKS (Carter, S. Lawlinks. Cavendish, 2000). In an earlier librarianship role she wrote on the subject of women’s studies. Since 2002 she has been director of the Lawpaths project.

 

Hester Swift has been Foreign and International Law Librarian at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies from London since February 2007.

 

Published May 2009
See the Archive Version!

 

Table of Contents

1. The UK Legal System

1.1 Background and Constitution

1.2 Constitutional Reform

2. The Court System

2.1 Civil Courts

2.2 Criminal Courts

3. Primary Sources of Law

3.1 Legislation

3.1.1 Primary Legislation: Acts of Parliament

3.1.2 Delegated Legislation: Statutory Instruments

3.1.3 Electronic Sources of Legislation

3.2 Case Law

3.2.1 Law Reports

3.2.2 Citations

3.2.3 Electronic Sources of Case Law                                               

4. Encyclopaedias

5. Indexes and Digests

5.1 Legislation and Case Law Indexes

5.2 Periodical Indexes

6. Parliamentary Information

6.1 Debates

6.2 Bills

7. United Kingdom Government

7.1 Official Publications

8. Law Reform

9. Devolved Governments          

9.1 Scotland

9.1.1 Background

9.1.2 Legislation

9.1.3 Case Law          

9.2 Wales

9.3 Northern Ireland

9.3.1 Background

9.3.2 Legislation

9.3.3 Case Law

10. The Legal Profession

10.1 Legal Education

10.2 Legal Publishers

10.3 Legal News & Current Awareness

 

1. The UK Legal System

1.1 Background and Constitution

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland consists of four countries: England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. It was established in 1801 with the union of Great Britain and Ireland, but only achieved its present form in 1922 with the partition of Ireland and the establishment of the independent Irish Free State (later the Republic of Ireland).

England and Wales have a combined judicial system, while Scotland and Northern Ireland each have their own judicial systems.

There have been significant constitutional reforms since the Labour government came into power in 1997, which make any description of the legal system before then out of date. The Labour government immediately instituted a process of devolution, i.e. devolving certain areas of government to the component countries of the UK: a separate Scottish Parliament, Northern Ireland Assembly and Welsh Assembly were established following referendums in the countries concerned. In the context of these new legislatures the English Parliament is often referred to as ‘Westminster.’ The devolved governments are dealt with in separate sections below.

The UK joined the European Economic Community (now the European Union) in 1973, since when it has been a requirement to incorporate European Union legislation into UK law, and to recognise the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in matters of EU law.

The UK is a signatory to the European Convention of Human Rights. The Convention was incorporated into UK law with the passing of the Human Rights Act 1998, which allows for the provisions of the Convention to be applied directly by the UK courts.

The Queen is the Head of State, although in practice the supreme authority of the Crown is exercised by the government of the day. The legislature is a bicameral parliament. The House of Commons consists of 646 Members of Parliament (MPs), elected by simple majority vote in a general election every five years, although the Government has the right to call an election at any time before then, and in practice usually brings the date forward to secure electoral advantage. The House of Lords has about 750 Members, who fall into four categories: elected hereditary peers, life Peers, Law Lords and bishops; most are appointed on the recommendation of the Prime Minister or the House of Lords Appointments Commission.

There is no single written constitution. The constitutional law of the UK consists largely of statute law, case law and constitutional conventions which do not have statutory authority but nevertheless have binding force. Much of the relationship between the Sovereign and Parliament is conventional rather than statutory.

The Ministry of Justice, created on 9 May 2007, is the government department responsible for the justice system, the constitution and electoral matters. Its head is the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice. The Ministry’s predecessor was the Department for Constitutional Affairs, which had itself superseded the Lord Chancellor’s Department in 2003.

1.2 Constitutional Reform

The government which came into power in 1997 (and is now in its third term of office) has instituted constitutional reforms in several areas, including the reform of the House of Lords, devolution and human rights.

The process of House of Lords reform began with the abolition of the voting rights of all the hereditary peers, apart from ninety-two who remain until the House is fully reformed. In July 2008 the government presented the latest in a series of white papers on House of Lords reform, setting out plans for an eighty or one hundred percent elected second chamber (Cm 7438). The House of Lords Information Office has a Briefing Paper on Reform and Proposals for Reform from 1900 to 1999 and the House of Lords Library has produced a Library Note on the reforms from 1997 to 2008.

The Human Rights Act was passed in 1998, incorporating into UK law the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights. Although the UK had been a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights since 1951, the Act provided for the provisions of the Convention to be incorporated into domestic law. For information about the effects of the Act see the human rights pages of the Ministry of Justice website.

The government is currently considering the introduction of a Bill of Rights for the UK. On 23 March 2009 it published a green paper called “Rights and responsibilities: developing our constitutional framework”, Cm 7577.

For the effects of devolution reforms see below.

Valuable commentary on constitutional affairs, including a monthly newsletter, can be found on the website of the University College London (UCL) Constitution Unit.

2. The Court System

2.1 Civil Courts

In England and Wales, most civil cases at first instance are heard in either the County Court (minor claims) or the High Court (but certain types of civil case – such as family proceedings - are heard in the magistrates’ courts). The High Court has three divisions: Queen’s Bench, Family and Chancery. Appeals from the County Court go to the High Court or Court of Appeal, Civil Division; appeals from the magistrates’ courts go to the High Court; appeals from the High Court go to the Court of Appeal, Civil Division.

The House of Lords is, for a few more months, the supreme court of appeal for the whole of the UK in civil cases. A new Supreme Court will replace the judicial functions of the House of Lords in October 2009, under the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 (see Explanatory Notes), thereby making a constitutional separation between the legislature and the judiciary. Further information about the Supreme Court can be found on the Ministry of Justice website.

A diagram of the court system for England and Wales can be found on the website of Her Majesty’s Courts Service (HMCS).

A further appellate court, sometimes omitted in a description of the system, is the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, which hears cases from the British overseas territories and dependencies and some Commonwealth countries as well as certain highly specialised domestic appeals. It also hears cases concerning questions relating to the powers and functions of the devolved legislatures of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales (see below); this area of its jurisdiction will be transferred to the new Supreme Court.

There has been extensive reform of civil procedure in recent years. Following the publication in 1996 of a major report by Lord Woolf: Access to justice: final report to the Lord Chancellor on the civil justice system in England and Wales, a completely new set of Civil Procedure Rules was put into operation in 1999, as well as new legislation modernising the courts and legal services. The Legal Services Commission was created under the Access to Justice Act 1999 to administer legal aid.

Her Majesty’s Courts Service (HMCS), an executive agency of the Ministry of Justice, is responsible for administration of the court system. It was established in 2005.

In addition to the courts there are specialised tribunals, which hear appeals on decisions made by various public bodies and Government departments, in areas such as employment, immigration, social security, tax and land. They are administered by the Tribunals Service, which was set up in 2006 as an executive agency of the Ministry of Justice. In November 2008 the first phase of a programme of reforms to the tribunal system began, under the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007. Information about the reforms can be found on the Tribunals Service website.

2.2 Criminal Courts

All criminal cases are heard initially in the magistrates’ courts; the more serious ones are then transferred to the Crown Court. Appeals from the magistrates’ courts go to either to the Crown Court or the High Court; appeals from the Crown Court go to the Court of Appeal, Criminal Division. The final court of appeal for criminal cases in England, Wales and Northern Ireland is, at the time of writing, the House of Lords, but the new Supreme Court will take over this function from October 2009. A diagram of the civil and criminal court system in England and Wales can be found on the HMCS website.

Criminal procedure has recently been reformed: following the 2001 Review of the Criminal Courts by Sir Robin Auld, consolidated Criminal Procedure Rules were introduced in 2005.

 

3. Primary Sources of Law

3.1 Legislation

This section covers legislation by the UK Parliament at Westminster. For information about the devolved legislatures, see the sections on Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, below.

3.1.1 Primary Legislation: Acts of Parliament

There are two main categories of primary legislation: public general acts and local acts; this survey concentrates on public general acts. Depending on the legislative programme of the government, some 40-70 acts are passed each year. The sequential number of each act within a year is known as the chapter number (thus Banking Act 2009 c.1 - the first act to be passed in 2009).

Public general acts are published individually by The Stationery Office in pamphlet format, cumulating into several annual bound volumes. Explanatory notes are published separately for each act.

The principal printed source for revised acts is Halsbury’s Statutes, published by LexisNexis. It is arranged by subject in 50 volumes and contains the revised text of all acts in force, with extensive annotations. It is updated by means of an annual cumulative supplement and a loose-leaf noter-up.

Current Law Statutes, published by Sweet & Maxwell, contains acts as originally passed. It consists of annual volumes and each act has an introduction and annotations, but these do not give details of amendments. It is of particular value for finding the background to legislation and tracing the official documents (reports, white papers, etc.) and parliamentary debates which preceded an act.

3.1.2 Delegated Legislation: Statutory Instruments

Statutory instruments, or SIs, are rules, regulations and orders made under the authority of an act of parliament. There are up to about 3500 of these published annually, and they are numbered sequentially within each year (e.g. The Inquiry Rules 2006, SI 2006/1838). They often provide the detail required for the application of the act and some contain provisions for the commencement (coming into force) of legislation.

SIs are published individually by The Stationery Office and they cumulate annually into bound volumes.

 

3.1.3 Electronic Sources of Legislation

Free websites

The Office of Public Sector Information (OPSI) provides acts in their original form from 1988 onwards. Explanatory notes can also be found here. It has SIs from 1987 onwards.

The official Statute Law Database, provided by the National Archives, has revised acts. However, it is not as up-to-date as the subscription sources.

Acts can also be found on the British and Irish Legal Information Institute website, known as BAILII (original text from 1988 onwards, plus earlier revised texts extracted from the Statute Law Database).

 

Subscription databases

Justis provides the original texts of all acts from 1235 to the present. It has SIs from 1949 onwards (plus all earlier instruments that were still in force in 1948).

 

Westlaw UK has revised acts and SIs. It also provides historical versions of acts.

LexisNexis Butterworths also has revised acts (with the annotations from Halsbury’s Statutes) and SIs. It also has an email request service for historical versions of acts.

Lawtel contains the original text of acts from 1987 onwards and SIs from 1984 onwards, with lists of amendments and other status information

 

3.2 Case Law

3.2.1 Law Reports

Cases of legal significance from the higher courts and tribunals are reported in numerous series of law reports. However, cases from the lower courts (magistrates’ courts, county courts and Crown Court) are very rarely reported and those which do not establish a noteworthy legal point are not reported at all.

Until 1865 case reporting was done by private court reporters; the resultant publications are called the nominate reports, because they are usually known by the name of the reporter. The nominate reports have been gathered together in a 178-volume collection called the English Reports (1220 - 1873), which makes them relatively easy to find. The English Reports are available free on the CommonLII website, as well as on several subscription databases (see below).

In 1865 the reporting of cases was systematised by the Incorporated Council of Law Reporting (ICLR), which started publishing series collectively known as The Law Reports. These are the most authoritative source of case law and should be cited in preference to other series where there is a choice.

The Law Reports (1865- ) comprises four separate series: Appeal Cases, Chancery Division, Queens Bench and Family Division. Judgments of the House of Lords and Privy Council appear in Appeal Cases; High Court cases appear in the series relating to the appropriate court division (e.g. Chancery); cases heard by the Court of Appeal do not appear in the Appeal Cases series, but in the series dedicated to the High Court division from which the case was appealed.

The ICLR also publishes the Weekly Law Reports (1954- ) and a few other series.

The All England Law Reports (1936 - ) is the only other general series of law reports, published by LexisNexis.

In addition there are a large number of specialised reports from various other publishers, covering different areas of law.

3.2.2 Citations

The Cardiff Index to Legal Abbreviations, a free website launched in 2004, is an authoritative directory of legal abbreviations, both British and worldwide.

The leading printed guide to UK legal abbreviations is Raistrick, D., Index to Legal Citations and Abbreviations, 3rd ed., Sweet and Maxwell, 2008.

3.2.3 Electronic Sources of Case Law

A distinction here has to be made between law reports and transcripts. In recent years there has been a growth in the provision of electronic transcripts of cases, many available free. Some of these, though not all, will subsequently be reported.

Free websites

BAILII contains an easily searchable and growing number of case law databases

CommonLII provides the full series of the English Reports

House of Lords judgments are available on the Parliament website from 1996 onwards, and are uploaded within two hours of the decision.

Other sources can be found via LAWLINKS, a directory of legal websites provided by the University of Kent.

Subscription Services

LexisNexis Butterworths contains The Law Reports 1865-; the All England Law Reports 1936-; and the All England Reprint and All England Reprint Extension, which contain cases from 1558-1935. In addition it contains many other cases from specialised series published by LexisNexis, plus unreported cases (transcripts) from 1980 onwards. It has the broadest case law coverage of any single service.

Westlaw UK contains The Law Reports 1865- and many other series, including the Weekly Law Reports and Criminal Appeal Reports. It also has unreported cases from 1999 onwards.

Justis has The Law Reports, 1865- and several other major series, including the English Reports and the Weekly Law Reports.

HeinOnline has the English Reports

Lawtel contains a large database of transcripts from about 1980 onwards.

There are numerous other services offering access to more specialised series of reports.

 

4. Encyclopaedias

The leading legal encyclopaedia is Halsbury’s Laws of England, published in numerous volumes by LexisNexis. The fifth edition has recently started to come out, but the fourth edition has not yet been completely superseded. Halsbury’s Laws is available online via the LexisNexis Butterworths service.

5. Indexes and Digests

5.1 Legislation and Case Law Indexes

The Stationery Office publishes the Chronological Table of the Statutes, which lists amendments to statutes from 1235 onwards. It also used to produce a printed index, the Index to the Statutes, but this has been superseded by online sources.

 

Sweet and Maxwell’s Current Law includes a Legislation Citator giving details of amendments.

The two major printed indexes to UK case law are The Digest, published by LexisNexis, and Current Law, published by Sweet and Maxwell. Both contain summaries of cases, with law report citations and references to cited cases and legislation.

Current Law is available electronically as part of Sweet and Maxwell’s CLI Online. The Current Law Case Citator, part of CLI Online, enables you to check the judicial history of a case and to see where it has been reported, and to trace case commentaries in journals, and links to the digest of the case in Current Law Cases. The database also includes the Current Law Legislation Citator, which enables you to find amendments, cases interpreting a piece of legislation and commentary in journal articles. The Current Law databases are available on Westlaw UK as well, though in a somewhat altered form.

JustCite is an electronic-only case and legislation citator produced by Justis Publishing.

5.2 Periodical Indexes

Legal Journals Index covers over 800 UK and English-language European titles. It started publication in 1986 and is no longer available in hard copy. It is available on Westlaw and CLI Online.

Index to Legal Periodicals, as US database, has good coverage of the more academic UK legal journals.

Lawtel also includes an articles index for about 60 law journals from around 1998.

6. Parliamentary Information

The UK Parliament website provides information on the current and past business of the two Houses of Parliament and their committees. It also has a wealth of general material on the parliamentary system, including factsheets on parliamentary procedure and history. You can also find details of the composition of Parliament and of the government of the day and links to official publications.

6.1 Debates

The debates of Parliament are published in Hansard. There are separate series for the House of Commons and the House of Lords and for Public Bill Committee (formerly Standing Committee) debates. Hansard is also available on the Parliament website, back to the 1988/89 session for the House of Commons and 1995/96 for the House of Lords. New debates appear within about 3 hours. There is also a prototype digitised version of Hansard from 1803 to 2005 on the same website.

6.2 Bills

Current bills are available are on the Parliament website. Once a bill has become law it is removed from the site and a link to the act is given instead.

The progress of legislation can be looked up in the House of Commons Weekly Information Bulletin (current bills) and Sessional Information Digest (bills from previous sessions, 1995/96 onwards).

7. United Kingdom Government

Directgov is the UK government website, which acts as the main information point for all public services. It includes an A-Z list of central government departments and agencies with links to their respective websites.

7.1 Official Publications

Most official publications are published by The Stationery Office (TSO), a commercial company established in the mid-1990s following the privatisation of the trading functions of the official publisher, Her Majesty’s Stationery Office (HMSO). Part of HMSO remains within the OPSI (Office of Public Sector Information), handling the statutory functions of official publishing and administering crown and parliamentary copyright.

Some official publications are published by individual government departments or agencies rather than by TSO – see departmental websites for details.

TSO provides all command papers and House of Commons papers for free on its Official Documents website, together with a selection of earlier documents. It also has an online catalogue and bookshop.

The online index to official publications is the subscription database UKOP, which goes back to 1980. There is also a free index, BOPCRIS, covering selected publications from 1801 to 1995.

8. Law Reform

The Law Commission is an independent body set up in 1965 to keep the law of England and Wales under review and recommend reform where needed. Its projects are described on its website, and you can access Law Commission Reports and Consultation Papers in its online library. The Scottish Law Commission is the equivalent body for Scotland.

9. The Devolved Governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland

An introduction to devolution can be found on the Directgov site, including links to the websites of the devolved governments and assemblies themselves. For more detailed information, see the website of the UCL Constitution Unit.

9.1 Scotland

9.1.1 Background

The Scottish legal system is in part separate from that of England and Wales. It is a mixed system, combining elements of civil law and common law.

Under the Treaty of Union in 1707, when it became part of Great Britain, Scotland lost its independent legislative powers. Then in 1997 the new Labour Government carried through proposals for devolution, setting up a new Scottish Parliament. The first elections were held in 1999. The Scottish Parliament can legislate in most areas of domestic policy, but not foreign affairs, defence and national security, economic and monetary policy, employment or social security (see Scotland Act 1998, schedule 5).

The Scottish court system is separate from that of England and Wales. The principal law officer is the Lord Advocate. The Court of Session is the supreme civil court, subject to appeal to the House of Lords; most civil cases are dealt with in the sheriff courts. The supreme criminal court is the High Court of Justiciary, and the lower courts are the sheriff courts and district courts. The Scottish Courts website contains information about the court system.

The legal encyclopaedia for Scotland is Laws of Scotland: Stair Memorial Encyclopaedia, a multi-volume work published by LexisNexis. It is also available online via LexisNexis Butterworths.

9.1.2 Legislation

The Scottish Parliament passed its first acts in 1999. The original texts of all acts of the Scottish Parliament (ASPs) are on the OPSI website, together with Scottish Statutory Instruments (SSIs) and other material. Revised ASPs and SSIs are available from the UK Statute Law Database, but may not be fully up-to-date – for more current versions, use the subscription databases Westlaw or LexisNexis Butterworths.

Acts of the UK Parliament at Westminster may apply wholly or partly to Scotland. Those which only apply to Scotland are not available on LexisNexis Butterworths, but they are on Westlaw UK. For other sources of Westminster acts, see above.

The Scottish Parliament site includes bills, debates and other official documents.

9.1.3 Case Law

The main series of Scottish law reports is Session Cases (1822- ). It reports not only cases heard in the Court of Session, but also in the House of Lords and the High Court of Justiciary. The series is available on LexisNexis Butterworths (1930 - ) and Westlaw UK (1898 - ).

The Scots Law Times (1893- ) is a weekly publication containing law reports. The whole series is on Westlaw.

There are also other Scottish series, and some significant Scottish judgments may be reported in the Weekly Law Reports and All England Law Reports.

BAILII publishes all the Scottish cases in the public domain, with links to legislation and cases cited. The Scottish Courts website contains the same cases, though without links, on its Court Judgments pages; you can also find information about the Scottish judiciary and the judicial system here.

9.2 Wales

Wales has been united with England administratively, politically and legally since the 16th century. Under arrangements for devolution a Welsh Assembly was established in 1999, following a referendum (see the Government of Wales Act 1998). At the time it could only make secondary legislation: Welsh Statutory Instruments.

The settlement created under the 1998 Act was substantially altered by the Government of Wales Act 2006. The National Assembly for Wales replaced the Welsh Assembly and was given limited powers to pass laws known as “measures,” which are equivalent to primary legislation. The first such measure was passed in 2008. Each measure within a year is given a serial number prefixed by “nawm” in the English-language version, or “mccc” in the Welsh-language version (equivalent to the chapter number of a Westminster act or the “asp” number of a Scottish Parliament act). The new Assembly also makes other types of legislation – these are outlined on its website.

Welsh legislation can be found on the OPSI website and on BAILII. For Westminster legislation applying to Wales, see the UK sources mentioned above.

There is no separate Welsh case law; again, see the UK sources above.

9.3 Northern Ireland

9.3.1 Background

The island of Ireland was divided into Northern and Southern Ireland by the Government of Ireland Act 1920, passed by the UK Parliament at Westminster. The Act was rejected by the South, which left the United Kingdom to form the Irish Free State (now Ireland). What had been the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland consequently became the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

The Parliament of Northern Ireland opened in 1921; from 1932 it was located at Stormont, near Belfast. It was given the power to legislate in most policy areas, but certain matters were still to be dealt with by the UK Parliament.

Civil unrest led to the suspension of the Stormont Parliament in March 1972. A new legislature, the Northern Ireland Assembly, was established in 1973, but suspended in May 1974, when the British government resumed direct rule.

In 1998, a political settlement for Northern Ireland was finally reached in the Good Friday Agreement (also known as the Belfast Agreement), which was endorsed by referendum. The Northern Ireland Act 1998 implemented the Agreement and the Northern Ireland (Elections) Act 1998 established the Northern Ireland Assembly. Legislative powers were devolved to the Assembly from 2 December 1999. Several times since then the Assembly has been suspended, but at the time of writing it has been in continuous operation since May 2007. (The suspension dates are: 11 February to 14 May 2000; 24 hours on 10 August 2001; 24 hours on 22 September 2001; and 14 October 2002 to 8 May 2007).

The Northern Ireland Office website provides background and current information. A valuable website for information and documents on the Northern Ireland conflict is the University of Ulster’s CAIN (Conflict Archive on the Internet).

9.3.2 Legislation

 

Primary legislation: acts, measures and orders in Council

 

Since the creation of Northern Ireland, acts applying to the province have been passed at various times by the Parliament of Northern Ireland, the UK Parliament at Westminster and the current Northern Ireland Assembly (see above for dates).

 

The laws passed by the short-lived 1970s Northern Ireland Assembly were called measures, not acts.

Northern Ireland Orders in Council are a third type of (quasi-) primary legislation. Each has two reference numbers: an NI (Northern Ireland) number and an SI (statutory instrument) number, for example: The Budget (Northern Ireland) Order 2007, SI 2007 no. 914 (NI 8). Although mainly employed during periods of direct rule from Britain, they continue to be used in certain policy areas.

 

Sources:

The acts of the Parliament of Northern Ireland (1921-72) were published by HMSO Belfast in annual volumes under the title Public General Acts, also known as Northern Ireland Statutes.

 

Orders in Council appear in Northern Ireland Statutes from 1972 onwards (the title pages give various titles but Northern Ireland Statutes always appears on the spine). They are on the OPSI website from 1987 onwards.

The 1973/4 Northern Ireland Assembly’s measures were published in the 1974 volume of Northern Ireland Statutes (the volume’s title page reads Measures and Orders in Council)

 

The acts of the current Northern Ireland Assembly are published in Northern Ireland Statutes (also known as Acts of the Northern Ireland Assembly). They are all available on the OPSI website as well, together with their Explanatory Notes.

 

Westminster acts applying to Northern Ireland appear in the usual UK sources (see above).

Statutes Revised Northern Ireland: statutes of all the above types, except Westminster acts 1921 onwards and acts of the current Assembly, appear in this work. It also includes acts still applying to Northern Ireland which were passed by the Parliaments of England/Great Britain/the UK from 1226 to 1920 and those passed by the Parliament of Ireland at Dublin from 1495 to 1800.

The last printed edition of Statutes Revised Northern Ireland was the second, giving the text in force as at 31 March 1981. It has now been incorporated into the UK Statute Law Database and updated to 31 December 2005.

 

Secondary legislation: statutory instruments and statutory rules
Secondary legislation applying to Northern Ireland takes two forms:

Statutory rules (SRs), made by Northern Ireland government departments: these have an SR number, for example the Social Security Benefits Up-rating Order (Northern Ireland) 1994, SR 1994/74. They are published in Northern Ireland Statutory Rules. They are all on the OPSI site from 1998 onwards, plus selected ones 1991 -

Statutory instruments (SIs), made by Westminster government departments: these have an SI number, for example The Maximum Number of Judges (Northern Ireland) Order 2001, SI 2001/958. They are distinguished from Orders in Council (see above) by the lack of an NI number. See above for sources of Westminster SIs.

Further information about Northern Ireland legislation can be found in a House of Commons Factsheet and on the OPSI and Statute Law Database websites.

 

9.3.3 Case Law

Northern Ireland has its own court structure, largely replicating that of England and Wales. The Northern Ireland Court Service website has a diagram.

The Northern Ireland Law Reports (1925 - ) cover cases from the superior courts and appeals from those courts to the House of Lords. The series was originally published by the Incorporated Council of Law Reporting for Northern Ireland; although now published by LexisNexis, it is the official series for Northern Ireland. It is on the LexisNexis Butterworths database (1945 - ).

The Northern Ireland Judgments Bulletin (1978 - ) is also published by LexisNexis.

The Bulletin of Northern Ireland Law (1981- ), published ten times a year by SLS Legal Publications, includes case summaries.

Northern Ireland decisions from 1998 onwards are available on BAILII.

10. The Legal Profession

The legal profession in England and Wales has two branches, solicitors and barristers. Barristers represent clients in the courts on the instruction of solicitors, although their exclusive rights of audience in the higher courts have been eroded in recent years. Barristers are organised into groups called “chambers,” but are essentially self-employed. Their professional organisation is called the Bar. Solicitors are organised into firms of varying size, from sole practitioner to large multinational practices. They provide all legal services and instruct barristers.

The Bar Council is the governing body for Barristers. The Law Society of England and Wales is the representative body for solicitors and the Solicitors Regulation Authority is the regulatory authority.

Northern Ireland has its own solicitors and barristers and therefore its own Law Society and Bar.

In Scotland the legal profession is divided into solicitors and advocates. Solicitors are governed by the Law Society of Scotland. Advocates are members of the Scottish Bar, the Faculty of Advocates.

10.1 Legal Education

Law degrees in England and Wales are at the undergraduate level. Professional training is provided at the postgraduate level by means of the Bar Vocational Course (BVC) for would-be barristers, and the Legal Practice Course (LPC) for solicitors.

Students with a first degree in a subject other than law must follow a one-year qualifying course known as the CPE (Common Professional Examination) or GDL (Graduate Diploma in Law) before being eligible for the professional courses. In order to complete their training student solicitors must find a post in a law firm as a trainee solicitor and barristers must obtain a pupillage in a set of barristers’ chambers.

For information about legal education in Northern Ireland and Scotland, refer to the website of the UK Centre for Legal Education (the site also covers England and Wales).

10.2 Legal Publishers

There have been major changes in legal publishing in recent years. The venerable legal publisher Butterworths has been incorporated into LexisNexis, and the print publishing greatly reduced, academic titles having been sold on to Oxford University Press and many practitioners’ titles to Tottel Publishing, a new imprint. The other main UK legal publisher, Sweet & Maxwell (owned by Thomson Reuters), continues to have an extensive print list.

Two other substantial legal publishers are Routledge Cavendish and Hart Publishing; the latter tends more towards the academic market. Another important publisher is Cambridge University Press. Others include Ashgate, Barry Rose, Jordan, Macmillan and Wiley.

The leading specialist law publisher for Scotland is W. Green, owned by Thomson Reuters. Some of the UK publishers mentioned above also publish Scottish law titles.

SLS Legal Publications, based at Queen’s University, Belfast, is a small publisher specialising in Northern Irish law.

10.3 Legal News & Current Awareness

The following are some of the sites providing free legal news:

·       In Brief

·       The Lawyer

·       Law Society Gazette

·       Elexica

·       The Barrister

·       Legal Week

·       The Firm (Scotland)

·       Scots Law News

In addition, the gateway site Legal Resources in the UK and Ireland has a directory of blogs.

LIS-LAW is the main online forum for discussion among law librarians in the UK.