Where can you find the law?

The most accurate and comprehensive sources for British law all cost money – and lots of it.

LexisNexis and Sweet & Maxwell (Westlaw): These are the only two private sector publishers that provide a substantially comprehensive set of consolidated legislation. Out of reach for all but the wealthiest law firms.

Halsbury’s Statutes: Available in hard copy or online. Authoritative and updated, found only in major public libraries or private law libraries.

Justis : A paid-for resource containing the laws as they were published (unconsolidated) going back many hundreds of years.

Where to find the law for free

Office of Public Sector Information: Access to “as-enacted” (ie, unconsolidated) legislation published by HMSO since 1987.

BAILII : Republished OPSI data with free value-added search facilities and hyperlinks. Again, this is incomplete and unconsolidated, so its utility is very limited.

Citizens Advice Bureaux: Some good basic factual information on major laws. For more detailed guidance you need to speak to a CAB advisor.

HM Court’s Service: Provides major case judgments. Tribunals tend to do better and most publish all their decisions. Some tribunals have their own websites.

Public Libraries: Most libraries simply don’t stock accurate updated legal reference tools because of their extortionate cost. Specialised law libraries are not free for public access.

Other resources for those interested in the availability of consolitaded law:
Binary Law Blog: A blog written by Nick Holmes that focuses on legal information: how it is authored, edited, managed, processed and published; who uses it, why and what for; its syntax and semantics.

British and Irish Association of Law Librarians – This organisation seeks to co-ordinate the ‘interests, opinions and activities of legal information professionals into a single influential voice’. I recently attended BAILL’s annual conference and discovered they have long favoured a free publicly accessible statute law database.

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