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The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland is a constitutional monarchy. It does not have a written constitution, but it does have constitutional law based on statutes, including the Magna Carta, the Bill of Rights, the Union with Scotland Act, the Human Rights Act, many recent statutes on constitutional reforms, and also on the common law.
The United Kingdom has three legal systems: those of England and Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. There is a national, bicameral Parliament, with a House of Lords, House of Commons, and a Prime Minister who is the leader of the majority party or coalition in Parliament. Legislation is proposed by the government, approved by both houses of Parliament, and receives formal Royal assent.
The United Kingdom is a common law system. It has a Supreme Court as a final court of appeal. Prior to October 2009, the highest court was the Law Lords of the House of Lords. In England and Wales, the other courts are the Court of Appeal, High Courts, Crown Courts, and Magistrates’ Courts. The High Courts include Chancery Courts, Family Courts, and Queen’s Bench.
Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own court systems. Scotland has its own separate Parliament. There are also separate Welsh Assembly and Northern Ireland Assembly for local affairs. A referendum on Scottish independence will be held on September 18, 2014.
The United Kingdom is a member of both the European Union and the Council of Europe. European Union law is binding on courts of the United Kingdom. The European Convention on Human Rights is part of the law of the U.K. through the Human Rights Act of 1998.
There are numerous introductory sources on the law of the United Kingdom and on English law. Print resources include:
The MacMillan Law Library’s collection of print primary resources from the United Kingdom can be found in the Granger Hansell Room in Ranges 375-378. However, none of the primary law sets are current, most updated through 2007. There are plentiful online resources for research in British law, both in subscription databases and government websites.
Hein Online's World Constitutions Illustrated: Laws Concerning Constitutional Matters, from the Charter of Liberties of Henry I (1100) and the Magna Carta (1215) to recent laws on constitutional and parliamentary reform. The database includes historical commentaries, scholarly articles available on Hein Online, and a bibliography of select constitutional works.
Oxford Constitutions of the World: Statutes and documents that make up the United Kingdom Constitution, from the Magna Carta to recent acts, with introductions, commentary, and analysis.
The British Library: Magna Carta translation, notes, and history.
The official reporter is The Law Reports (1865-present) . New cases are reported in the Weekly Law Reports. Unofficial reporters include the English Reports Full Reprint (1220-1865) and All England Law Reports (1558-present, with headnotes). These include opinions from the Supreme Court, House of Lords, Court of Appeal, Chancery, Queen’s Bench, and Family Courts.
Options for finding case law include:
Print statutory publications, none of them current at Emory, include Public General Acts and Measures, the official publication of statutes with index and tables of acts; and Halsbury’s Statutes of England, an unofficial compilation of statutes in force with annotations. Statutes from 1225-1867 were collected in Statutes at Large, with volumes by year of reign. The library’s print volumes of Statutes at Large are available in Special Collections.
Halsbury’s Laws of England: A legal encyclopedia, alphabetical by topic, with an emphasis on statutes. The MacMillan Law Library's set is updated only through 2009.
The Digest: Annotations of reported case law from England and selected cases from other United Kingdom and Commonwealth countries.