Searching by citation on ICLR Online

Posted on 5th Nov 2014 in User Tips

Since the launch of ICLR Online v 2 earlier this year, subscribers have been able to find the case law they need in a simpler, more unified way. This article addresses the best way to find cases by their citation, and provides a useful guide to the different modes of citation of law reports and judgments.


1. Using the Citation field in the ICLR Online search form.

ICLR Online has two case search forms: a simple form, which is available on the Dashboard when you first log in, and is the default version shown when you select Case Search from the left hand menu column, and an Advanced Search, shown below. Both forms include the three basic fields of Case Name, Citation and Free Text.

advanced search citation marked

The Citation search field will accept two kinds of reference. The first is a Neutral Citation, which is the reference number assigned to a judgment by or on behalf of the court, and as its name suggests is intended to apply regardless of where it has been replicated or published. The second is a publication reference for a law report.

For a full description of what a law report is and how it differs from a judgment transcript, see What is a Law Report?

Enter the citation

When entering a Neutral Citation or publication reference, the best results will be obtained by entering the complete citation, assuming you have it.

A typical Neutral Citation looks like this: [2014] EWCA Civ 1394. This applies to the Civil Division of the Court of Appeal, and refers to the recent case of Belhaj v Straw.

In the High Court, the format includes the abbreviation EWHC (England and Wales High Court) before the number, and then an abbreviation indicating the division or subdivision of the court in brackets afterwards, eg  [2014] EWHC 2365 (Admin) which refers to the judgment in the case of R (Public Law Project) v Secretary of State for Justice, as heard in the Administrative court of the Queen’s Bench Division.

A typical law report reference contains three or four elements. Where the reports are published by year, the first element (as in Neutral Citations) is the year in square brackets. This may be followed by a volume number. Then comes the series abbreviation, eg AC for Appeal Cases (a subdivision of The Law Reports, covering cases in the Supreme Court and Privy Council) or WLR for the Weekly Law Reports, the comprehensive general series covering all courts and divisions since 1953.

(For a full list of commonly used Neutral Citations and law report references, see below.)


(1) Partial references.

If you omit some element, such as a the page number of a report, or the division abbreviation at the end of the Neutral Citation for a High Court judgment, this may not matter. All that will happen is that the results displayed will include as many hits as match the limited information provided.

You can use this to your advantage. If you want to find all the cases in volume 1 of the Weekly Law Reports for a given year, you can enter the year, volume and series abbreviation thus: [2014] 1 WLR 

This will produce a list of all the cases whose publication references match or include those elements. Although we will soon be adding a Browse function to the Case Search page, this shortcut is a useful way of achieving much the same results.

(2) New or unusual abbreviations.

Please note that the effectiveness of the Citation search depends in part on the court or series abbreviation matching a recognisable format. Where the Neutral Citation or publication reference fails to obtain the desired result(s), or is not recognised by the system, a worthwhile backup search can be performed by entering the relevant citation, enclosed in quotation marks, into the Free Text search in the field below Citation on the search form. For example, some EWHC *** (Fam) cases were recently redesignated with EWFC, the abbreviation used in Neutral Citations for the new Family Court.


For a full guide to using ICLR Online, download the User Guide (PDF).


2. Modes of citation of law reports and judgments

Neutral citations

A neutral citation is the unique reference given to a particular judgment by the Courts Service. It is not a report reference and is used solely to identify the judgment.

A neutral citation consists of three basic elements:

  • Year, given in square brackets.
  • Court abbreviation
  • Number

For judgments of the High Court, there is also a further abbreviation, in round brackets, indicating the division or subdivision. Court abbreviations are preceded by the letters UK, EW (England and Wales) etc, to identify the relevant jurisdiction.

Neutral citations were introduced in 2001 for the Court of Appeal and Administrative Court of the Queen’s Bench Division, and were extended to other senior and appellate courts and some appellate tribunals in 2002.

Here is a list of English courts and tribunals covered by the ICLR and the style of their neutral citations:

Supreme Court (from 2009) [2009] UKSC 1
House of Lords (from 2001 to 2009) [2001] UKHL 2
Privy Council [2001] UKPC 3
Privy Council (Devolution cases) [2001] UKPC D3
Court of Appeal (Civil Division) [2001] EWCA Civ 4
Court of Appeal (Criminal Division) [2001] EWCA Crim 5
High Court (Queen’s Bench Division) [2002] EWHC 6 (QB)
High Court (Queen’s Bench Division: Administrative Court) (during 2001) [2001] EWHC Admin 7
High Court (Queen’s Bench Division: Administrative Court) (from 2002) [2002] EWHC 8 (Admin)
High Court (Queen’s Bench Division: Admiralty Court) [2002] EWHC 9 (Admlty)
High Court (Queen’s Bench Division: Commercial Court) [2002] EWHC 10 (Comm)
High Court (Queen’s Bench Division: Mercantile Court) [2002] EWHC 11 (Mercantile)
High Court (Queen’s Bench Division: Technology and Construction Court) [2002] EWHC 12 (TCC)
High Court (Chancery Division) [2002] EWHC 13 (Ch)
High Court (Chancery Division: Patents Court) [2002] EWHC 14 (Pat)
High Court (Family Division) [2002] EWHC 15 (Fam)
Competition Appeal Tribunal [2001] CAT 16


Upper Tribunal (Administrative Appeals Chamber) [year] UKUT 15 (AAC)
Upper Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chamber) [year] UKUT 17 (IAC)
Upper Tribunal (Lands Chamber) [year] UKUT 18 (LC)
Upper Tribunal (Tax and Chancery Chamber) [year] UKUT 16 (TCC)
New from 2014:
Family Court [2014] EWFC 17
Court of Protection [2014] EWCOP 18


NB No official neutral citations exist for cases earlier than 2001.

However, BAILII (the British and Irish Legal Information Institute), which provides online access to a large number of pre-2001 judgment transcripts on its website, has attributed to them its own neutral citation references. It is important to note that these Bailii references, though given in the same style, are not official neutral citations and should only be used (eg in written argument or in an academic journal or essay) where a recognised law report reference is not available.

A neutral citation may be used in addition to a report reference, or where no report exists, but it is not a substitute for a report reference.

Law report citations

A law report citation contains three elements (explained below):

  1. Year and/or volume number
  2. Publication series abbreviation
  3. Page number

Year / volume number

Where the year of publication of a volume of law reports is part of the reference, it is given in square brackets.

For example, [2009] 2 WLR 1     The report appears at page 1 of volume 2 of the Weekly Law Reports for 2009.

To take another example, [2010] Bus LR 443     The report appears at page 443 of the Business Law Reports for 2010. There is no volume number since the series does not go into more than one volume per year.

Where the series is issued in sequentially numbered volumes, regardless of the year of publication, the year does not form part of the citation.

If a year is given, usually only at the first mention of a case, it appears in round brackets.

Note that where the year appears in round brackets, it should be the year of the judgment, not the year of the volume’s publication.

For example, (1830) 1 B & Ad 289      The report (of a judgment given in 1830) appears at page 289 of the first volume of the reports prepared and published by Barnewall & Adolphus.

To take a slightly different example, (1874) LR 9 QB 350     The report (of a judgment given in 1874) appears at page 350 of volume 9 of the Law Reports (Queen’s Bench) series published by ICLR.

The confusion of annually numbered and sequentially numbered volumes, those requiring square brackets for the date as opposed to those requiring round brackets, is a common error but is quite easy to avoid once the reason for the difference is understood. As a matter of good practice, always use the full report citation of the best available report of a case the first time the case is mentioned, either in the text or, at the very least, in a footnote.

Publication series abbreviation

Before the establishment of the ICLR in 1865, most reports were produced by private reporters under their own names. There were hundreds of different series, few of which lasted for more than a few volumes. Each series has its own abbreviation, eg B & Ad for Barnewall & Adolphus.

The more reliable or at rate more widely used of these various series were later gathered together and reprinted as the English Reports (ER).

Reporting since 1865 has tended to take the form of either general series, covering all the important cases or those in a particular court or division, and specialist series, covering cases in a particular area of law, regardless of which court they were heard in.

The full names of most reports and their various abbreviations can be found in reference books such as Donald Raistrick’s Index to Legal Citations and Abbreviations (Sweet & Maxwell, 2013) and online at the Cardiff Index to Legal Abbreviations.

Page number

The page number refers to the page where the case begins in the printed volume.

A reference to another page of the report should, ideally, include the full citation, including the page number where the case begins, followed by the page number referred to, thus: [1944] AC 176, 183.

To identify a passage in a case with even greater particularity, many series (including all those published by ICLR) incorporate marginal lettering down the side of the printed page, so a more detail reference might look like this: [2010] 2 WLR 788, 797E–F.

Since 2000, judgments have routinely included paragraph numbering, so in fact the reference just given could also be expressed: [2010] 2 WLR 788, para 30.

Note that when a paragraph number is used, there is no need also to mention the page number or marginal letter of the relevant passage, but the page number of the report should still be retained.

Case numbers – warning

Some series of reports use a case number in place of a page number in the reference. Although this has a certain logic, especially where cases are routinely accessed online rather than by reference to a printed volume, it can lead to confusion if what the reader expects, and looks for, is a page number. The style used in all ICLR reports is to continue using a page number in a case citation for all series which are printed.

  • TIP: If the case cannot be found online by reference to the page or case number, try omitting that element in the citation search, and see if the case comes among those found to match the year / volume / series information. Failing that, try searching by name or free text, or by other fields on the advanced search form.

Where a series is only published online, such as the Case Notes or WLR Daily case summaries published by ICLR on this website, there is no page to number, and the number given in the citation is a case number.

Unreported cases

Unreported cases pre-dating the system of neutral citations should be cited as “(unreported)” with a date of judgment and the name of the judge or court and, where available, a transcript number:

Heronsgate Enterprises Ltd v Harman (Chesham) Ltd (unreported) 21 January 1993; [1993] CA Transcript No 83, CA

The transcript number refers to the official collection of transcripts of Court of Appeal (Civil Division) judgments that used to be kept in the Judges’ Library at the Royal Courts of Justice. Transcripts of judgments in other courts may be obtained from the official shorthand writers appointed by the Courts Service: see Casetrack (Merrill Corpn).

European case citations

Court of Justice (Luxembourg)

Judgments of the Court of Justice of the European Union (formerly Court of Justice of the European Communities) (EJC) have a case number which is applied to the opinion of the Advocate General as well as to the judgment of the court in the case. The current style of case numbers is: Case C-529/07

Judgments of the General Court (formerly the Court of First Instance) of the Court of Justice (EGC / CFI) also have case numbers, with T (for “Tribunal”) in place of C (for the French word “Cours”): Case T-23/07

NB The case number is an integral part of the title of the case (unlike a neutral citation), and should always be used, at least the first time a case is mentioned. The year (/07) refers to the date of commencement of proceedings or reference to the court, not the date of judgment.

The official reports are the European Court Reports (ECR) which report nearly every case. Volume I covers the Court of Justice and volume II covers the General Court or Court of First Instance. The mode of citation follows the usual style for UK reports:

  • [2000] ECR I-7587 – a case before the ECJ
  • [1997] ECR II-39 – a case before the CFI

Where cases have not (yet) been reported, the practice of the court itself is to give a reference for the year without the page number: [2010] ECR I-0000. This is because all cases are eventually published within a volume for the year of judgment (however long after it may be published). However, our current style in ICLR reports is to give the date of judgment rather than a non-existent page reference.

ECLI numbers

The European Court of Justice has recently introduced a pan-European system of case citation called the European Case Law Identifier (ECLI) under which each jurisdiction will use a similar formula for numbering individual judgments and opinions. The ECLI number consists of 5 parts separated by colons:

ECLI: [country code] : [court abbreviation] : [year of decision] : [case number]

Eg ECLI:EU:C:2014:235 (decision number 235 of the Court of Justice (“C”) of the EU from 2014).

The first element, ECLI, appears to be an optional prefix. The Court’s practice direction states that it must be used, but the Court itself does not include it in its own judgments. (Perhaps it has awarded itself a unilateral opt-out.)

A report from the Court of Justice will often include two ECLI numbers, one for the Advocate General’s opinion, and one for the Court’s judgment.

At present, we are not aware of any initiative or plan to implement the system in the UK courts.


European Court of Human Rights

Cases in the European Court of Human Rights at Strasbourg, often referred to as “the Strasbourg court” or “ECtHR” have a unique application number which is not part of the title of the case but may be used to identify it where it has not been reported: Bochan v Ukraine (Application No 7577/02) (unreported) given 3 May 2007, ECtHR

For cases which have been reported, the best reference for decisions of the Strasbourg court and the European Commission of Human Rights (EComHR) is the European Human Rights Reports (EHHR), followed by the Decisions and Reports (DR) and the Yearbook (YB). In each case the year appears in round brackets and refers to the date of judgment, and the reports are published in sequentially numbered volumes regardless of year of publication:

  • Soering v United Kingdom (1989) 11 EHRR 43
  • M v Denmark (1992) 73 DR 193
  • X v Belgium (1961) 4 YB 260