The use of law reports as a source for data on citation patterns in the courts of law has been pioneered in the United States and to some extent in Canada. Very little work has been undertaken within the English legal system until now. The difficulties faced are noted: the complexity of the court structures and the law reporting system, but above all the limitations of using law reports rather than the original case transcripts which are difficult to obtain. A citation file was built from the citations included in all the issues of fifty‐eight different law report titles issued during 1985. Since there is a degree of duplication in coverage of cases between the law report publications, 5,260 versions of 2,451 unique cases were discovered, yielding a file of 25,868 citations (excluding those to statutory materials). The file was reduced to 11,159 citations (excluding those to statutory materials) by selecting only the longest versions, according to the number of words, of each of the 2,451 cases. Analyses are presented on the general characteristics of the citation file (the proportion of citations to each of twenty‐four different material types), the frequency of citation to statutory materials, case law and other materials (each cross‐tabulated by citing court, subject matter of the citing case and, except for statutory materials, whether the citation occurred in argument by counsel only or in the judgement). For case law only further analyses were performed to identify the jurisdiction of cited cases, self citation practice by different courts, the ageing of authority, the law report titles from which cited cases were taken, the use of unreported cases, and the occurrence of cases without citations to earlier case law.
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