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Legal System in United Kingdom

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1.       The UK Legal System
1.1.    Background and Constitution
1.2   . Constitutional Reform
2.       The Court System
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.       Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland
9.1.    Scotland
9.1.1. Background
9.1.2. Legislation
9.1.3. Case Law
9.1.4. Official publications
9.2.    Wales
9.2.1. Background
9.2.2. Legislation
9.2.3. Case law
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
11.     Legal Publishers
12.    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 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).

United Kingdom

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

There have been significant constitutional reforms since 1997, which make any description of the legal system before then out of date. In 1997 the new administration began a process of devolution, handing over 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.  To distinguish it from these new legislatures the United Kingdom Parliament in London 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.

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 UK legislature is a bicameral parliament, consisting of the House of Commons and the House of Lords. The House of Commons consists of 650 Members of Parliament (MPs) elected by simple majority vote in a general election every five years. The House of Lords hasmore than 700 members, who fall into three categories: life peers (the largest group), hereditary peers, and bishops; most peers 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 (the Queen) and Parliament is conventional rather than statutory.

The Ministry of Justice is the government department responsible for the justice system and for certain aspects of constitutional policy. 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.  The Cabinet Office is responsible for many areas of constitutional policy, including devolution, elections and the royal succession.

1.2. Constitutional Reform

Since the late 1990s there have been constitutional reforms in several areas, including membership of the House of Lords, devolution and human rights.

The process of House of Lords reform began with House of Lords Act 1999, which abolished the right to sit in the House of all the hereditary peers apart from ninety-two ‘excepted’ hereditary peers.  A second stage of major reforms was intended to follow, but so far this has not been achieved (see Hereditary Peers in the House of Lords Since 1999 , House of Lords Library Note 2014/014).

The Human Rights Act was passed in 1998, incorporating into UK law the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights.  For information about the effects of the Act, see the human rights pages of the Ministry of Justice website .

Commentary on UK constitutional affairs can be found on the website of the University College London (UCL) Constitution Unit .

2. The Court System

A diagram of the court systems of England and Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland can be found on the website of the Supreme Court .


In England and Wales, all criminal cases start in the magistrates’ court, but the most serious matters are then sent to the Crown Court.  Civil cases are sometimes heard in the magistrates’ court, but most are heard by the County Court. Above these courts are the High Court, Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court. For further information, see the Judiciary website .

A system of specialist tribunals deals with matters such as employment, tax and immigration in England and Wales.  The Judiciary website has a diagram of the tribunals system.

The Supreme Court is the final court of appeal for all UK civil cases, and for criminal cases in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The Supreme Court took over the judicial functions of the Appellate Committee 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.

A further appellate court 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.

Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS), an executive agency of the Ministry of Justice, is responsible for administration of the court and tribunal system in England and Wales.

3.      Primary Sources of Law

3.1. Legislation

This section covers legislation by the UK Parliament at Westminster (in London).  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.

Public general acts are published individually by The Stationery Office in pamphlet format, cumulating into several annual bound volumes published under the title The Public General Acts and General Synod Measures . 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). Explanatory notes are published separately for each act.

The principal printed source for revised acts is Halsbury’s Statutes , published by LexisNexis and currently in its fourth edition. It is arranged by subject in 52 volumes and contains the revised text of acts in force, with extensive annotations. It is updated by means of reissued volumes, an annual cumulative supplement and a loose-leaf noter-up.

Current Law Statutes , published annually by Sweet and Maxwell from 1947 onwards, contains acts as originally passed. Each act has an introduction and annotations, but these do not give details of amendments. Current Law Statutes Annotated is of particular value for finding the background to legislation and tracing the official documents (reports, white papers and so on) 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. They are numbered sequentially within each year, for example: 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

  • is a free official website which provides acts and secondary legislation. From 1988 onwards, all acts are available on the site (with one or two exceptions) and a large selection of older acts is also provided. There is a full set of statutory instruments from 1987 onwards, together with a large amount of earlier secondary legislation.  Acts are available in both the original and revised versions, but note that the revised versions are not as up-to-date as those on subscription databases.
  • BAILII , the website of the British and Irish Legal Information Institute, also provides acts and secondary legislation; the collection is similar in scope to that on

Subscription databases:

  • Justis provides the original texts of acts from 1235 onwards and SIs from 1949 onwards as originally made, plus a selection of earlier secondary legislation.
  • Westlaw UK has revised acts and SIs. It also provides historical versions of acts.
  • Lexis Library has revised acts (with the annotations from Halsbury’s Statutes) and SIs.  There is 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

This section covers the courts and tribunals of England and Wales, together with the UK Supreme Court, the House of Lords and the Privy Council; for decisions of the Scottish and Northern Irish courts, see the sections on Scotland and Northern Ireland, below .


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) and tribunals 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 theCommonLII website, as well as on several subscription databases.

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 consists of four sub-series:


  • Appeal Cases
  • Chancery Division
  • Queens Bench
  • Family Division .

Judgments of the Supreme Court, House of Lords and Privy Council appear in Appeal Cases . High Court cases appear in the series relating to the appropriate High Court division: Chancery, Queen’s/King’s Bench or Family. 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. It is 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, from the UK and around the world.

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 cases will subsequently appear in formally published, edited law reports, while many others will remain unreported.

(For decisions of the Scottish and Northern Irish courts, see the sections on Scotland and Northern Ireland, below .)

Free websites:

  • BAILII provides transcripts of cases from the higher courts and from various tribunals. It also includes a collection of leading cases arranged by subject. New judgments often appear on BAILII before they are available elsewhere.
  • CommonLII provides the full series of the English Reports
  • Supreme Court judgments are all available on the Court’s website .
  • House of Lords judgments are on the Parliament website from 1996 to 2009 (when the new Supreme Court took over as the final court of appeal).
  • Tribunal judgments are available via the Ministry of Justice website.

Subscription Services:

  • Lexis Library contains The Law Reports (1865- ); the All England Law Reports (1936- ); the All England Reprint and All England Reprint Extension (cases from 1558 to 1935); and the English Reports . In addition it contains many other cases from numerous specialised series, plus unreported cases (transcripts) from 1980 onwards.
  • Westlaw UK contains The Law Reports (1865- ), the Weekly Law Reports (1953 – ), the English Reports and numerous specialised series.  It also has unreported cases (transcripts), from 1967 onwards.
  • Justis offers The Law Reports , (1865- ), the Times Law Reports (1990- ), the Weekly Law Reports (1953 – ), the English Reports and several other major series, as well as a large set of unreported cases (transcripts).
  • HeinOnline has the English Reports .
  • Lawtel contains a large database of transcripts from about 1980 onwards.
  1. Encyclopaedias

The leading legal encyclopaedia for England and Wales is Halsbury’s Laws of England and Wales , published in numerous volumes by LexisNexis and currently in its fifth edition. Halsbury’s Laws is also available online, via the LexisNexis Library service.
(See Scotland, below , for the Scottish equivalent.)

5.      Indexes and Digests

5.1. Legislation and Case Law Indexes

The Stationery Office (TSO) publishes the Chronological Table of the Statutes , which lists amendments to UK statutes from 1235 onwards. TSO used to produce a subject index as well, the Index to the Statutes , but this has been superseded by online sources.

Sweet and Maxwell’s Current Law Legislation Citator lists amendments to UK statutes from 1947 onwards.

The two major printed case digests and indexes are:

  • The Digest published by LexisNexis. Has summaries of cases from 1919 onwards, with law report references and details of citations in subsequent case law. There are cumulative indexes by party name and subject.
  • Current Law , published by Sweet and Maxwell. The Current Law Year Book and monthly updates contain summaries of cases from 1947 onwards. The Current Law Case Citator gives law report references (1947- ) and lists citations in subsequent case law.

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

The Westlaw UK online service includes a case citator called Case Analysis .

The Lexis Library online service includes a case citator called CaseSearch .

5.2. Periodical Indexes

Westlaw UK’s Legal Journals Index covers over 800 UK and English-language European titles from 1986 onwards. It is no longer available in hard copy.

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

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

6. Parliamentary Information

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

6.1. Debates

The debates of the UK Parliament at Westminster are published in Hansard. There are separate series for the House of Commons, the House of Lords and the Public Bill Committees (formerly Standing Committees). Hansard is on the Parliament website back to the 1988/89 session for the House of Commons. 1995/96 for the House of Lords and 1997/98 for the Public Bill/Standing Committees.
Historic Hansard , 1803 to 2005, has been digitised in a project led by the House of Commons and House of Lords libraries. It is freely available for searching and browsing.

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 on the Parliament website . The Sessional Information Digest (SID), published by Parliament from 1983 until 2012, records the parliamentary stages of bills in each session. On the Parliament website, issues of SID are available for session 1995/96 up to the long session of 2010/12.

The indexes to Hansard, available in print and online (see links under ‘Debates’, above), are an alternative means of tracing an old bill’s progress through Parliament.

Hansard references for each stage of the legislative procedure can also be found in the annotations to each act in Current Law Statutes Annotated.

7. United Kingdom Government

The Government of the United Kingdom is headed by the Prime Minister, supported by the Cabinet (a group of senior ministers) and other ministers.


The UK government website, , brings together the formerly separate websites of each government department. To find the pages for a particular government department or agency, follow this link.


7.1. Official Publications

Most official publications are published by The Stationery Office (TSO), a commercial company established following the privatisation of the official publisher, Her Majesty’s Stationery Office (HMSO). Part of HMSO remains within the National Archives, 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.


Official publications are available free of charge in the Publications section of This collection includes policy papers, consultation papers, reports (including Law Commission reports), treaties, guidance, statistics, research papers and other material. The date ranges available vary between types of document. If a particular official publication is not on, try the UK Government Web Archive ; failing that, print materials will be available in the British Library, many university libraries and some other libraries.


Parliamentary publications, such as select committee reports, are found on the Parliament website . Printed sets are held by the British Library, many university libraries and some other libraries.


The online index to government and parliamentary publications is the subscription database UKOP , which goes back to 1980. As well as being an index, UKOP now includes many full-text documents and links to publications on websites. There is also a free online index, BOPCRIS , covering selected publications from 1801 to 1995.


The Stationery Office Annual Catalogue (and its predecessors) has detailed indexes to government publications.


  1. Law Reform

The Law Commission, an independent body set up in 1965, keeps the law of England and Wales under review and recommends reform where needed. Law reform reports, consultation papers and other Law Commission publications are on its website from 1996 onwards; earlier publications – right back to the first law reform report, in 1965 – are on BAILII .


The Scottish Law Commission is the equivalent body for Scotland and was also set up in 1965.  All its law reform reports can be found on its website , together with all consultation papers from 2001 onwards and a selection from earlier dates.
The Northern Ireland Law Commission was established in 2007. Its reports and consultation papers are on its website .


9. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland

Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have their own legislatures, established in the late 1990s.

Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own court systems, while Wales is covered by the unified court system of England and Wales.


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. Nearly three hundred years later, a new Scottish Parliament was established under the Scotland Act 1998.


The Scottish Parliament has the power to legislate in all areas not reserved to the UK Parliament at Westminster; reserved matters include foreign affairs, defence and national security (see Scotland Act 1998, schedule 5).  Following the vote against Scottish independence in the referendum of 18 September 2014, the Smith Commission was established to look into devolving further powers to Scotland. Its report was published in November 2014 and recommended the devolution of a number of additional areas.


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 Supreme Court in London; 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.


9.1.2. Legislation Primary legislation: Acts of Parliament

Acts passed by the old Scottish parliaments (up to 1707) were collected in the nineteenth century and published in a twelve-volume set, The Acts of the Parliaments of Scotland , edited by Thomas Thomson.

Old Scottish acts are also available free on the internet:


·        Records of the Parliaments of Scotland to 1707 : compiled by the Scottish Parliament Project at the University of St Andrews; includes acts and other parliamentary documents.

· has a collection called “Acts of the Old Scottish Parliament”


Scottish acts passed at Westminster (1707 onwards), are published individually, then cumulated in the official annual set of UK statutes; the current title of this series is The Public General Acts and General Synod Measures (published by TSO) . Westminster acts may apply wholly or partly to Scotland; those applying wholly to Scotland have ‘(Scotland)’ in the title, for example, the Partnerships (Prosecution) (Scotland) Act 2013 .

Acts passed by the new Scottish Parliament (1999 onwards), are published individually by TSO, then cumulated into the official annual set, The Acts of the Scottish Parliament .


The original texts of all acts of the Scottish Parliament (ASPs) are on ; some revised ASPs are also available on this site, but are not fully up-to-date.


Westlaw UK has revised versions of all acts relating to Scotland, whether passed by the UK or Scottish Parliaments. Lexis Library has most of these acts (also in revised versions), but some Westminster acts applying wholly to Scotland are not included.


Justis has the original versions of ASPs and Westminster acts applying to Scotland. It does not have acts of the old Scottish parliaments. Delegated Legislation: Statutory Instruments

Since 1999, most secondary legislation for Scotland is made by the Scottish administration and appears in TSO’s Scottish Statutory Instruments (SSIs) series. A few UK statutory instruments applying to Scotland are still made, however, and these appear in the UK Statutory Instruments (SIs) series.

SSIs and SIs are available as originally made on and the Justis database. Westlaw UK and Lexis Library both have revised SSIs and SIs, including SIs only applying to Scotland.

9.1.3. Case Law

The main series of Scottish law reports is Session Cases (1822 – ), published by the Scottish Council of Law Reporting. It reports cases heard in the Court of Session, the Supreme Court, the House of Lords and the High Court of Justiciary. Until 1907, the series was cited by the abbreviated names of the successive editors: Shaw (S.), Dunlop (D.), MacPherson (M.), Rettie (R.) and Fraser (F.); since 1907, it has been cited as ‘SC’. Session Cases is on Lexis Library (1930 – ) and Westlaw UK (whole series).


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


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


The BAILII website has cases from the Supreme Court, the High Court of Justiciary, and the Court of Session and Sheriff Court. Most of the Scottish cases on BAILII date from the late 1990s onwards, but a large selection or earlier cases is also available, back to the late nineteenth century.  Many of the reports on BAILII have links to legislation and cases cited.


The Scottish Courts website has a database of cases from the High Court of Justiciary, Court of Session and Sheriff Court, going back to about 1998.


9.1.4. Official publications

The Scottish Government website provides current publications and a large archive of older material, including consultation papers and reports.

Parliamentary publications, such as bills, parliamentary debates and committee reports, are available from the website of the Scottish Parliament .

9.2. Wales

9.2.1. Background

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 (see the Government of Wales Act 1998 ).  At first it could only make secondary legislation: 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”, the first of which was passed in 2008. Each measure within a year has 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 last measure was passed in 2011 (see below). The 2006 Act also established an executive body for Wales, the Welsh Government .

Following a referendum on Welsh legislative powers in 2011, the Assembly now has the power to pass laws in all devolved areas without consulting the UK Parliament; previously, it needed Westminster’s agreement to legislate in some areas. Laws passed by the Assembly from 2012 onwards are called “acts” instead of “measures” (Government of Wales Act, s.107 (1)). Each Welsh Assembly act in a given year has a serial number prefixed “anaw” in the English version and “dccc” in the Welsh. More information about these changes may be found on the Assembly’s website .

Further details about Welsh law are given in the Globalex guide Researching Welsh Law: What is unique in Wales? , by Lillian Stevenson and Dr. Catrin Huws. See also Daniel Greenberg, Welsh Devolution, (2013) 13 LIM 134.

9.2.2. Legislation

Acts and measures passed by the Assembly, and Wales statutory instruments, can be found on the free websites and BAILII . Some revised Welsh primary legislation is available on, but it is often not fully updated. Wales SIs are only provided as originally made on these two websites.


For fully updated Welsh legislation, primary and secondary, use the subscription databases Westlaw UK and Lexis Library.


For Westminster legislation applying to Wales, see Westlaw UK, Lexis Library, and BAILII (further details about Westminster legislation are available in the dedicated section, above ).

9.2.3. Case law

There is no separate Welsh case law – see the main case law section, above .

9.3. Northern Ireland

9.3.1. Background

The island of Ireland was divided into North and South 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 (UKTS 50, 2000). The Northern Ireland Act 1998implemented the Agreement and the Northern Ireland (Elections) Act 1998 established the Northern Ireland Assembly. In 2010, the Hillsborough Castle Agreement led to the devolution of policing and justice to the Assembly.


The websites of the Northern Ireland Office and Northern Ireland Assembly provide information about the devolution settlement. There is a collection of information and documents concerning the Northern Ireland conflict on the University of Ulster’s CAIN website.


For details of Northern Ireland legal publications since devolution, see Alison Lorimer, Northern Ireland Legal Material Since Devolution: a Practical Guide , (2013) 13 LIM 152. See also Sarah Semple,Researching the Law of Northern Ireland , (2008) 8 LIM 283.


Northern Ireland has its own court structure, largely replicating that of England and Wales. The final court of appeal is the UK Supreme Court. The nidirect website, an official service for citizens, gives an overview of the Northern Irish courts.

9.3.2 Legislation

Legislative powers were devolved to the Northern Ireland 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. 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 “Background”, 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 order 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.


  • 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. Revised versions are available in Statutes Revised Northern Ireland and on .
  • Northern Ireland Orders in Council appear in Northern Ireland Statutes from 1972 onwards. Revised versions as at 1981 appear in Statutes Revised Northern Ireland .  Orders made from 1987 onwards are on (original and partially revised versions) and Westlaw UK (fully revised 1991 onwards, original versions 1987 to 1990).
  • 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”). Revised versions are available in Statutes Revised Northern Ireland and on .
  • The acts of the current Northern Ireland Assembly are published in Northern Ireland Statutes , also known as Acts of the Northern Ireland Assembly . Original and partially revised versions are ; fully revised versions are on Westlaw UK.
  • Westminster acts applying to Northern Ireland appear in the usual UK sources (see above ).

Note on Statutes Revised Northern Ireland :

Statutes of all the above types, except Westminster acts 1921 onwards and acts of the current Assembly, appear in Statutes Revised Northern Ireland . The work also includes acts still applying to Northern Ireland which were passed by the Parliaments of England/Great Britain/the UK between 1226 and 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 , where it has been revised further but not brought fully up t0 date.

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 the series Statutory Rules of Northern Ireland ( also known as Northern Ireland Statutory Rules ). They are on from 1996 onwards, together with selected earlier rules, all in their original versions. Revised versions are available on Westlaw UK, 1991 onwards.


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

9.3.3 Case Law

Northern Ireland Law Reports (1925 – ) is the official series. It covers cases from the superior courts and appeals from those courts to the House of Lords or Supreme Court.  The series was originally published by the Incorporated Council of Law Reporting for Northern Ireland, but is now published by LexisNexis. It is on the Lexis Library database (1945 – ).


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

The Bulletin of Northern Ireland Law was published by SLS Legal Publications from 1981 to 2012; it includes case summaries.

Northern Ireland court 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 representative body for barristers in England and Wales; the regulatory body is the Bar Standards Board .  The Law Society of England and Wales is the representative body for solicitors and the Solicitors Regulation Authority is the regulatory body.


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 represented and regulated 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 for law graduates is provided by means of the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) for 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 Scotland, refer to the websites of the Law Society of Scotland and Faculty of Advocates . For Northern Ireland, see the websites of the Law Society of Northern Ireland and the Bar of Northern Ireland .

11. 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; Tottel has since been acquired by Bloomsbury and changed its name to Bloomsbury Professional . The other main UK legal publisher, Sweet & Maxwell (owned by Thomson Reuters), continues to have an extensive print list.

Other law publishers include Hart , now part of Bloomsbury Publishing; Routledge , owned by Taylor and Francis;   Cambridge University Press ; Jordan ; Palgrave 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, was a small publisher specialising in Northern Irish law, but closed at the end of 2012. Books on the law of Northern Ireland are published by Bloomsbury, Hart and other UK publishers.


12. Legal News and Current Awareness

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

  • The Lawyer
  • Law Society Gazette
  • Elexica
  • The Barrister
  • Legal Week
  • The Firm (Scotland)
  • The Writ (Northern Ireland)

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.

Source - PTI

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