Guide to Legal Citations

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Author: JOSHUA DRESSLER
Editor: Joshua Dressler
Date: 2002
Encyclopedia of Crime and Justice
From: Encyclopedia of Crime and Justice(Vol. 1. 2nd ed.)
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Article
Pages: 12
Content Level: (Level 5)

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GUIDE TO LEGAL CITATIONS

The following brief guide to legal citations and the abbreviations used in them is designed primarily for readers unfamiliar with the literature of the law. It is confined to the abbreviations and citation forms used in this Encyclopedia. Readers wanting a comprehensive guide to legal citations and abbreviations should consult A Uniform System of Citation (the so-called Blue Book), now in its sixteenth edition, published by the Harvard Law Review Association and available at law school bookstores. Extensive lists of legal abbreviations and their meanings can also be found in the second edition of Dictionary of Legal Abbreviations Used in American Law Books by Doris M. Bieber (Buffalo, N.Y.: Hein, 1985). Readers wishing more comprehensive information about legal materials should consult the ninth edition of The Hornbook on How to Find the Law by Morris Cohen and Robert C. Berring (St. Paul: West, 1999) or the seventh edition of Fundamentals of Legal Research by J. Myron Jacobstein, Roy M. Mersky, and Donald J. Dunn (New York: Foundation Press, 1998).

The citation after the name of a case, statute, or treaty tells the reader where to find the full text of the court decision (in the case) or the full text of the material referred to. Below are typical American and British case and statute citations with brief explanations of their structure and the meaning of their various elements.

American state case: People v. Hansen, 9 Cal. 4th 300, 885 P.2d 1022 (1994)

American federal case: United States v. Alkhabaz, 104 F.3d 1492 (6th Cir. 1997)

  1. The first element of a case citation consists of the names of the parties, with the plaintiff—or, in criminal cases, the prosecuting entity—listed first and the defendant last. In the example, therefore, this is the case of (the) People (of the State of California) versus Hansen. In criminal cases, such as the examples above, a governmental unit, rather than an individual, organization, or group is the plaintiff, designated "United States" in federal cases and "State," "People," or "Commonwealth" in state cases. In cases on appeal, such as these, it is usual to list the original plaintiff first in order to retain the same case name throughout the case's entire judicial history, but in some jurisdictions the case on appeal will begin with the name of the appellant (the party initiating the appeal), who is almost always the defendant in the original case.
  2. The second element indicates where the case may be found in the appropriate volume of court reports, first in the official reporter (such reporters are published by the United States government and by most of the states) and second, in the unofficial (usually a regional) reporter. Within this element are listed, sequentially, the number of the volume, the abbreviated name of the court reporter, its series (if more than one series has been issued), and the page on which the text of the report (that is, the decision) begins. Further, within this element, the abbreviated name of the jurisdiction also indicates the level of court that decided the case. Thus, in the first example the abbreviation "Cal." indicates that the decision reported is that of the California Supreme Court (as contrasted to an abbreviation such as "Cal. App.," which would indicate a decision of one of the California courts of appeals). The case is reported in volume 9 of the official California Reports, fourth series, beginning on page 300, and also in volume 885 of the unofficial Pacific Reporter, second series, beginning on page 1022. In the second example, the abbreviation "F.3d" indicates that the decision reported is of one of the thirteen United States circuit courts of appeals (as contrasted to "U.S.," which would indicate the United States Supreme Court, or "F. Supp.," which would indicate a decision of one of the various federal district courts).
  3. Within the parentheses is given the year in which the court decision was rendered. As the federal example shows, the parenthetical material may also indicate the specific court that handed down the decision, if the name of the reporter series itself does not convey that information; this is true of all citations to "F.3d." In the example, the parenthetical reference indicates which of the thirteen federal circuit courts of appeals rendered the decision—here, the sixth circuit. For those states that do not issue official state reporters, the abbreviated name of the state and the level of the court will be indicated within the parentheses before the date of decision, as in State v. Reeves, 916 S.W. 2d 909 (Tenn. 1996). Case decisions from states lacking an official reporter for one or more levels of their courts are published in the appropriate unofficial regional reporter. If the case has any further procedural history (for example, if the decision was later affirmed, modified, or reversed by a higher court), that information will be printed after the basic citation.

British case: Regina v. McInnes, (1971) 1 W.L.R. 1600 (C.A.)

The typical British case citation differs slightly in form from the American.

  1. After the name of the parties (plaintiff or prosecuting entity first) appears the year in which the decision was published; this is not necessarily the same as the year in which it was rendered.
  2. The number after the year is the volume number of that year's published reports. Each year's volumes begin with number 1; they are not numbered in sequence from the beginning of publication, as are American reports. This is followed by the name of the reporter (the official one first if more than one is listed) and the page on which the case report begins.
  3. The final element, in parentheses, indicates which court rendered the decision. This element is omitted if the name of the official reporter, for example "A.C.," conveys that information.

American statutes: (1) Occupational Health and Safety Act (OSHA) of 1970, 29 U.S.C. § 651 (1988 & Supp. V. 1993); (2) Tax Reduction Act of 1975, Pub. L. 94-12, 89 Stat. 26 (codified as amended in scattered sections of 26 U.S.C.)

American statutes are cited in two different ways, depending on whether the text of the law in question is codified in one section (or a number of contiguous sections) of the United States Code (U.S.C.). Where this is so the statute is cited as in the first example.

  1. The first element is the name of the act (either its actual name or the name by which it is popularly known), followed by the year of its enactment and an indication, if appropriate, of whether the act has been amended since its original passage.
  2. The second element consists of the number of the Title (in the example, 29; each Title of the United States Code includes all the laws then in force relating to a particular subject matter, such as criminal law or copyright law) and the section number(s) where the statute has been placed in the code.
  3. Finally, there appear in parentheses the edition of the United States Code (a new edition is published approximately every six years) and an indication of where to find any changes or amendments to the statute which have been enacted since the publication of that edition (a multivolume supplement to the code is published annually).

Where the provisions of the statute have been scattered among one or more Titles of the Page xxvii  |  Top of Article United States Code, the law is cited as in the second example.

  1. The first element consists of the name and date of the act.
  2. The second element is the public law number. The first group of digits denotes which Congress enacted the legislation; the second group of numbers indicates the statute's number in the chronological sequence of all public laws passed by that Congress.
  3. There follows the location of the statute's text in the United States Statutes at Large. Until 1946, a volume of this series was published for each Congress; since 1946 a volume has been published for each session of each Congress. The volume number precedes the abbreviation, and the page number on which the text of the statute begins follows it.
  4. Finally, in parentheses, is listed the Title(s) (in the example, 26) of the code in or among which the text of the statute has been codified. If the act has been repealed or superseded, that fact will be indicated in parentheses.

British statute: Criminal Appeal Act, 1907, 7 Edw. 7, c. 23 (repealed)

British (or, before 1707, English) statutes are cited by the name of the act, the year of enactment, the year of the monarch's reign (in the example, the seventh year of Edward VII's reign; this practice was discontinued in 1963), and the position of the law in the numerical sequence of all the laws passed that year, the first law of each reign year being numbered chapter (c.) 1. If a particular section of the act is being cited, that will be indicated by "s." followed by the number of the section. If the act or some of its sections have been repealed, that fact will be indicated parenthetically, as in the example.

Internet Sources: United Nations Crime and Justice Information Network, The Sixth United Nations Survey on Crime Trends and the Operations of Criminal Justice Systems (1995–1997)(last modified, 13 March 2000) http://www.uncjin.org/Statistics/WCTS/WCTS6/wcts6.html

Citations to Internet sources are discouraged because of their transient nature. However, certain materials are unavailable in printed form or are very difficult to obtain, so Internet citations are used in such circumstances. The citation will include the author of the material, if any, and a full title of the material being cited. It is followed by the Uniform Resource Locator (URL), which is the electronic address for the material. It is customary to cite the most recent modification of the material (in the example above, on 13 March 2000). If no modification date is provided by the source, the citation should indicate the date the source-provider obtained access to the materials (which would be indicated as the date "visited").

JOSHUA DRESSLER

Full Text: 


Guide to Legal Citations

ABBREVIATION FULL NAME EXPLANATION
A.; A.2d Atlantic Reporter (First Series; Second Series) Unofficial reporter containing decisions of the highest courts and of some intermediate appellate courts of Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont.
Example: 189 A.2d 646 (Me. 1933) = Volume 189, Atlantic Reporter, Second Series, page 646 (jurisdiction; year decision rendered).
A.B.M.R. Army Board of Military Review An appellate court that reviews decisions of army courts-martial.
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Guide to Legal Citations

ABBREVIATION FULL NAME EXPLANATION
A.C. Appeal Cases (Great Britain) Part of the official English Law Reports; reports appellate cases decided by the highest courts of England—the House of Lords and the Privy Council. This series of reports begins in 1891.
A.F.B.M.R. Air Force Board of Military Review An appellate court that reviews decisions of air force courts-martial.
aff'd, affirmed Indicates that the lower-court decision (which appears before aff'd) was affirmed by a decision of a higher court (which appears after aff'd). Compare rev'd.
All E.R. All England Law Reports Unofficial but widely cited series containing decisions of English courts, beginning with 1936.
App. Div.; App. Div. 2d (N.Y.) New York Appellate Division Reports (First Series; Second Series) Official reports of decisions of the intermediate appellate courts of New York State, the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of the State of New York.
B.C. Ct. App. British Columbia (Canada) Court of Appeals An intermediate appellate court.
BGBI Bundesgesetzblatt, Teil 1 (West Germany) Weekly publication that prints the full official text of all West German federal laws, treaties, and decrees; published since 1949.
c.; ch. chapter
C.A. Court of Appeal (England) The appellate court in England, from which an appeal is possible only to the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords. It has two divisions: the Civil Division and the Criminal Division.
Cal.; Cal. 2d; Cal. 3d; Cal. 4th California Reports (First Series; Second Series; Third Series; Fourth Series) Official reports of decisions of the Supreme Court of California.
Cal. App.; Cal. App. 2d; Cal. App. 3d; Cal. App. 4th California Appellate Reports (First Series; Second Series; Third Series; Fourth Series) Official reports of decisions of the various California courts of appeals, which are intermediate appellate courts.
Cal. Rptr.; Cal. Rptr. 2d California Reporter (First Series; Second Series) Unofficial reporter that prints decisions of all the California courts.
Can. Crim. Code Canadian Criminal Code Codification of Canadian criminal law.
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Guide to Legal Citations

ABBREVIATION FULL NAME EXPLANATION
Can. S. Ct. Supreme Court of Canada Highest Canadian court.
C.C.A. Court of Criminal Appeal (Great Britain) Appellate court established by the Criminal Appeal Act of 1907; has been replaced by the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division).
C.C.C. Canadian Criminal Cases Annotated Reports of important decisions in criminal and quasi-criminal cases from dominion and provincial courts. Published since 1898; the second series begins with 1971.
C.F.R. Code of Federal Regulations A multivolume set, keyed to the Titles of the United States Code and revised annually. It gives the text of all administrative rules and regulations currently in force.
Cir. (as in 1st Cir.) Circuit A United States circuit court of appeals (an intermediate-level federal court). There are thirteen circuits; the number (or the letters D.C.) preceding the abbreviation indicates from which one the decision emanated.
Cmnd. (No.) Command (Great Britain) (Number) A designation affixed to certain reports issued by agencies of the British government and presented to Parliament at the command of the Crown.
C.M.R. Court Martial Reports Reports of the decisions of the various courts of military review and of the United States Court of Military Appeals. Published between 1951 and 1978.
Conn. Gen. Stat. (Ann.) Connecticut General Statutes (Annotated) A multivolume compilation, supplemented every year, containing all the laws and court rules currently in force in the jurisdiction (state).
C.P. Court of Common Pleas (England) One of the four superior courts at Westminster that existed until passage of the Judicature Acts in the second half of the nineteenth century. (The Judicature Acts fundamentally restructured the English court system.)
Cr. Cas. Res. Court for Crown Cases Reserved (Great Britain) A court of criminal appeal, established in 1848 to consider questions of law referred by a judge in certain of the lower courts before which a prisoner had been found guilty by verdict. If this court held that the point had been wrongly decided at the trial, the conviction was overturned. The court was abolished in 1907 by the Criminal Appeal Act, which created the Court of Criminal Appeal (C.C.A.).
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Guide to Legal Citations

ABBREVIATION FULL NAME EXPLANATION
Crim. App. Criminal Appeal Reports (Great Britain) Reports of cases brought under the Criminal Appeal Act of 1907; published since 1909.
C.R.N.S. Criminal Reports, New Series (Canada) Annotated reports (decisions) of criminal cases decided in the courts of the various Canadian provinces: 1st Series, 1946–1967; New Series, 1967–1978; 3d Series, 1978–.
Eng. Rep. English Reports—Full Reprint A compilation of all reported English cases between 1307 and 1865. Includes most of the material from the contemporary yearbooks.
Entscheidungen BGHSt Entscheidungen des Bundesgerichtshofes in Strafsachen Reports of decisions of the German Federal Republic's High Court of Criminal Appeals; published since 1951.
Entscheidungen RGSt Entscheidungen des Reichsgerichts in Strafsachen Reports of decisions of the highest court of criminal appeal under the German Empire, the Weimar Republic, and the Third Reich; published from 1880 through 1944.
Eur. Human Rights R. European Human Rights Reports Official reports of decisions of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France.
Ex. Court of Exchequer (England) Originally established by William the Conqueror and later one of the four superior courts at Westminster, although inferior to the King's (Queen's) Bench and Common Pleas.
Exec. Order Executive Order (United States) Orders, with the force of law, promulgated by the President. These orders are collected in Title 3 of the Code of Federal Regulations.
F.; F.2d; F.3d Federal Reporter (First Series; Second Series; Third Series) Official reports of decisions of the federal courts other than the Supreme Court. "F." (begun in 1880) includes decisions of both the federal district courts and the circuit courts of appeals; "F.2d" (begun in 1913) and "F.3d" cover decisions of the courts of appeals and the Court of Claims.
F. Cas. Federal Cases Reports of decisions of the federal district courts and the federal circuit courts from the establishment of those courts through 31 December 1879.
Fed. Reg. Federal Register Official publication, issued daily, containing the text of new and proposed departmental and agency rules and regulations before they are entered in the Code of Federal Regulations. Also contains administrative notices, which are not transferred to the C.F.R.
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Guide to Legal Citations

ABBREVIATION FULL NAME EXPLANATION
Fed. R. Evid. Federal Rules of Evidence A set of rules governing the introduction and use of various kinds of evidence and the examination of witnesses in all federal trials, civil and criminal.
F.R.D. Federal Rules Decisions Reports of opinions, decisions, and rulings (by federal courts and other bodies) involving the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure and the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Published since 1941; covers cases from 1940 on.
Fed. R. Crim. P. Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure Rules defining and prescribing proper procedure in all federal criminal cases. Most states have promulgated an analogous set of rules, often called the Code of Criminal Procedure (in New York it is called the Criminal Procedure Law, or CPL).
F. Supp. Federal Supplement Official reports of decisions rendered by the various federal district courts, the lowest federal courts.
G.A.O.R. General Assembly Official Records (United Nations) Official records of debates and resolutions of the United Nations General Assembly, beginning with its first session in 1946.
H.J. Res. (No.) House Joint Resolution (Number) A joint resolution proposed or passed by the House of Representatives of the United States Congress, by number.
H.L. House of Lords (Great Britain) As a legislative body, the House of Lords is the upper house of the United Kingdom Parliament; as a judicial body, it is the highest appellate court. It consists principally of the Lords of Appeal in Ordinary—former judges or barristers who are given life peerages and appointed to the House. They sit as Appellate Committees to hear cases and report their conclusions to the House.
H.R. (No.) House of Representatives (Number) A bill introduced in the House of Representatives of the United States Congress, by number.
I.L.M. International Legal Materials An American journal, published since 1962. Contains selected documents relating to international law, such as treaties and other international agreements, cases, regulations, legislation, and arbitration awards.
I.L.R. International Law Reports Unofficial reports of decisions of various international tribunals, and of national courts in cases in which the parties are of different nationalities.
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Guide to Legal Citations

ABBREVIATION FULL NAME EXPLANATION
I.R.C. Internal Revenue Code Compilation of the tax laws of the United States government. It is also Title 26 of the United States Code.
J.I. Jury Instructions Collection(s) of model or pattern instructions or charges given by judges to juries on various points of law.
K.B. Court of King's Bench (England) Historically, the highest common-law court in England. During the reign of a queen it is called the Queen's Bench (Q.B.). Under the Judicature Act of 1873 it was merged into the High Court of Justice.
L.N.T.S. League of Nations Treaty Series Official collection of bilateral and multilateral treaties and other international agreements signed between 1920 and 1946.
L.R. Law Reports (England) Official reports of English appellate cases. In an actual case citation a second abbreviation indicates which specific court or court division decided the case; an example is Regina v. Prince, L.R. 2 Cr. Cas. Res. 154 (1875).
Mich. Gen. Ct. R. Michigan General Court Rules Code of rules prescribing procedure for all cases, civil and criminal, brought in the courts of Michigan.
Misc.; Misc. 2d Miscellaneous Reports (First Series; Second Series) Official reports of the New York State trial courts.
M.J. Military Justice Reporter Reports of decisions of the United States Court of Military Appeals and of selected opinions of the courts of military review. Publication began in 1978; the cases reported date back to 1975.
N.E.; N.E.2d Northeastern Reporter (First Series; Second Series) An unofficial reporter containing decisions of the highest courts and of some intermediate appellate courts of Indiana, Illinois, Massachusetts, New York, and Ohio.
N.J.L. New Jersey Law Reports Compilation of cases decided by the New Jersey Supreme Court and the Court of Errors and Appeals. It was published from 1789 through 1948; subsequently it was merged into the New Jersey Reports (N.J.), which, however, include only decisions of the New Jersey Supreme Court.
N.W.; N.W.2d Northwestern Reporter (First Series; Second Series) Unofficial reporter containing decisions of the highest courts and of some intermediate appellate courts of Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin.
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Guide to Legal Citations

ABBREVIATION FULL NAME EXPLANATION
N.Y.S.; N.Y.S.2d New York Supplement (First Series; Second Series) Unofficial reports of the decisions of all New York State courts.
N.Z.L.R. New Zealand Law Reports Collection of decisions of the High (Supreme) Court of New Zealand, the highest appellate court, as well as decisions of other New Zealand appellate and special courts.
Op. Att'y Gen. Opinions of the Attorney General of the United States Contains formal advisory opinions of the attorneys general of the United States. Most states also publish advisory opinions of their attorneys general.
P.; P.2d Pacific Reporter (First Series; Second Series) An unofficial regional reporter containing decisions of the highest courts and of some intermediate appellate courts of Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.
Parry's T.S. Parry's Consolidated Treaty Series Unofficial collection of treaties and other international agreements signed between 1648 and 1919.
Pasch. Pascha (Easter) The Easter term in the old English court calendar.
P.C. Privy Council (England) The principal council of the sovereign, composed of the cabinet ministers and other persons chosen by the monarch. Its Judicial Committee acts as a court of ultimate appeal in certain types of cases from Commonwealth countries.
Phil. Philippine Reports Compilation of decisions of the Supreme Court of the Philippines from c. 1900 to the present.
Pub. L. Public Law Public laws or acts passed by the United States Congress, as contrasted with private laws (laws passed for the benefit of an individual, a small group of individuals, or a particular locality).
Q.B. Court of Queen's Bench (England) See K.B.
Q.B.D. Queen's Bench Division (England) Same as Q.B.; see K.B.
rev'd, reversed Indicates that the lower-court decision (which appears before rev'd) was reversed by a decision of a higher court (which appears after rev'd). Compare aff'd.
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Guide to Legal Citations

ABBREVIATION FULL NAME EXPLANATION
§; §§ section; sections
S. (No.) Senate (Number) A bill introduced in the United States Senate, by number.
S. Ct. Supreme Court Reporter Unofficial reporter containing decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States.
S.E.; S.E.2d Southeastern Reporter (First Series; Second Series) An unofficial regional reporter containing decisions of the highest courts and of some intermediate appellate courts of Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia.
S.I. Statutory Instruments (Great Britain) A collection of rules, regulations, and orders issued by ministers, departments, and other authorized bodies. Published since 1948.
S.J. Res. (No.) Senate Joint Resolution (Number) A joint resolution proposed or passed by the United States Senate, by number.
So.; So.2d Southern Reporter (First Series; Second Series) An unofficial regional reporter containing decisions of the highest courts and of some intermediate appellate courts of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, and Mississippi.
Star Chamber Court of Star Chamber (England) An early English court that evolved to remedy the inability of the common law courts to bring criminal offenders to justice. Its penalties were severe, its methods cruel, its procedures arbitrary, and its powers were sometimes illegally extended and exercised. Abolished in 1641, it has since become a synonym for the arbitrary and tyrannical exercise of authority.
Stat. 1. United States Statutes at Large 1. Official compilations of the text of newly enacted federal laws. Published for each Congress since the first (1789) and, since the Seventy-ninth Congress (1946), for each session of each Congress.
2. Statutes 2. A compilation of all the currently effective laws of a given jurisdiction, usually a state.
Supp. Supplement
S.W.; S.W.2d Southwestern Reporter (First Series; Second Series) An unofficial regional reporter containing decisions of the highest courts and of some intermediate appellate courts of Arkansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Tennessee, and Texas.
T.I.A.S. Treaties and Other International Acts Series A collection of treaties and other international agreements and conventions to which the United States is a party. Published since 1945, by the Department of State.
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Guide to Legal Citations

ABBREVIATION FULL NAME EXPLANATION
Trade Cas. (CCH) Trade Cases (Commerce Clearing House) A privately published case reporter issued as part of a loose-leaf service. It contains cases and administrative decisions dealing with regulation of trade, including antitrust matters. Reference to the cases is typically by paragraph number.
T.S. Treaty Series (United States Department of State) Compilation of treaties and executive agreements to which the United States is a party that were signed between January 1908 and November 1944 (ends with No. 994).
U.N.T.S. United Nations Treaty Series Official collection of international treaties and other agreements signed since 1946. Continues the League of Nations Treaty Series.
U.S. United States Reports Official reports of all decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States.
U.S.C. United States Code Official compilation, by Title (subject matter), of all federal laws currently in force. Supplementary volumes are issued annually, and a new edition of the code appears approximately every six years. Two publishers produce annotated versions of the United States Code.
U.S.C.A. United States Code Annotated Same as the United States Code, but privately published and containing extensive annotations (summaries of judicial decisions), with references also to law review articles.
U.S.C.M.A. United States Court of Military Appeals Reports of cases decided by the named court and of appeals from the boards (since 1 August 1969, courts) of military review, which review the sentences of courts-martial in the various branches of the armed forces of the United States.
U.S. Code Cong. & Ad. News United States Code Congressional and Administrative News Unofficial compilation of public laws, legislative histories, executive orders, proclamations, reorganization plans, commentaries, and related materials, beginning with the Seventy-eighth Congress, second session (1944).
U.S.L.W. United States Law Week An unofficial weekly publication that prints the full text of the latest United States Supreme Court decisions (substantially before they appear in any of the reporters) and reports all the other actions taken by the Supreme Court. It also contains selected decisions of lower federal courts and of state courts.
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Guide to Legal Citations

ABBREVIATION FULL NAME EXPLANATION
U.S.T. United States Treaties and Other International Agreements Official collection of treaties and other international agreements to which the United States is a party; published since 1 January 1950.
W.L.R. Weekly Law Reports (England) An unofficial reporter, published since 1953, that contains decisions of all the high English courts.
Y.B. Year Book (England) Books of case reports in a series extending from the reign of Edward I (1272–1307) to the time of Henry VIII (1509–1547). The reports were written by the prothonotaries (chief scribes) of the courts, at Crown expense, and published annually. Most, but not all, of the Year Book cases are included in the English Reports—Full Reprint (Eng. Rep.).

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Gale Document Number: GALE|CX3403000011