Why aren’t ICLR law reports free?

In a common law system such as that of England and Wales, decisions of the senior courts have the potential to make new law. Those decisions should therefore be freely available to the public, who are bound by the law, in the same way as legislation. For this reason, ICLR makes judgment transcripts available free on this platform, as well as providing a convenient way of searching and retrieving legislation from the official online publisher, the National Archives (via its website www.legislation.gov.uk).

Law reports are different. While they contain the full text of the judgment, they also contain additional material contributed by qualified law reporters and editors, adding to their value as precedents, and in most cases they have also been further checked and approved by the court. The additional work of selecting, editing and enhancing the reported cases is considerable. Someone needs to pay for it. It seems reasonable that those whose professional and educational needs require and benefit from the additional value of law reports should pay the modest subscriptions needed to fund the work involved. That has been ICLR’s operating model since its inception in 1865.

Two further points are worth making.

First, ICLR is a registered charity and is run on a non-profit basis, ie for the public benefit. Any surplus over costs is ploughed back into the provision of its legal information and technology services.

Second, as part of its public benefit agenda, ICLR publishes freely accessible case summaries of those judgments which it aims to report in one of its subscription series, thus offering many of the benefits of a law report headnote. In many cases this will be available alongside the judgment transcript itself or a link or citation enabling the reader to access it elsewhere.