How to look for records of... Civil courts: appeal cases after 1875

How can I view the records covered in this guide?

How many are online?

  • Some

1. Why use this guide?

Use this guide if you are looking for records of a civil appeal case in England or Wales after 1875.

The guides focuses primarily on records of the Court of Appeal, the second highest court in the land, established in 1875.

2. The Court of Appeal and its records

The Court of Appeal hears:

  • civil cases from the High Court
  • appeals from county courts (since 1934)
  • appeals from certain administrative bodies, such as the Lands Tribunal, the Patents Appeal Tribunal and the Income Tax Commissioners

Most records relating to appeal cases give very few details about the original case and only briefly note the decision on appeal, without giving reasons.

Written arguments were not submitted to the Appeal Court but the case was argued verbally in the court.

Most appeal case records held at The National Archives give very few details about the original case and only briefly note the decision on appeal.

After 1927 only a 2% random sample of most records were kept and are held by The National Archives.

3. How to find civil appeal cases

The National Archives may not be the best place to start your research, especially for more recent cases (1995 onwards). Recent court documents are with the Ministry of Justice but full judgments and court transcripts are available via online legal databases (subscriptions may be required).

The Find Case Law service provides public access to recent judgments from the England and Wales High Court, the Court of Appeal, the Supreme Court and tribunal decisions from the Upper Tribunals. The service will be expanded to include more courts and tribunals and a greater range of judgments will be added. For more information see the website.

Transcripts of some Court of Appeal (Civil Division) cases can be found on the BAILII website.

Significant cases are likely to have been published in The Law Reports, giving basic facts.

From 1884 Law reports were published in The Times (charges apply) which you can view free of charge at The National Archives, Kew.

You can search some records by name using advanced search but often you will need to browse records by date. If you need advice on how to browse, read our help pages.

It is useful to know which court the appeal came from as this affects where you look for records.

3.1 Cases from the Chancery Division (1875-1955)

For 1875-1955, cases that came from Chancery Division of the High Court should be registered in the Entry Books of Decrees and Orders in J 15. The entry records the referral and there will also be a note of the decision made by the Appeal Court.

Entry books are divided alphabetically by surname and by year. Surnames beginning A-K will be listed in ‘A’ books, surnames L-Z are in the ‘B’ books. Entries within the books are in chronological order, not alphabetical, and there are both printed and written series for each year.

To access these you need to use the Entry Book indexes which are available in the Map and Large Document reading room at The National Archives, Kew. You will need a readers’ ticket to view the indexes.

Registrars’ Court Books and Minutes Books in J 56 also have details of cases heard by the Court of Appeal but from 1927 only a 2% sample has been kept. You can browse them by date or search within the series by name of registrar if known.

3.2 Cases from King’s/Queen’s Bench or Exchequer Division (1875-1926)

If the case came to the Court of Appeal from the Exchequer Division (before 1880) or the Queen’s/King’s Bench Division (after 1880), judgments are noted in the rule books in KB 25. These cover the period 1875-1906 and you can browse them by year.

The rule books have indexes but the entries do not give much detail about the case. They also contain appeals from other courts, mainly county court cases relating to workmen’s compensation after 1897 (see section 3.5).

From 1907-1926, judgments are recorded in the order books in J 70, which are arranged chronologically. Each year then has several parts which each contain an index. You cannot tell which part you need so you will need to order all parts for the year you are researching. No order books have been kept after 1926.

Detail of case file J 157/30, an appeal by Mary Whitehouse concerning the broadcast of the film Scum on Channel 4.

3.3 Selected case files (1981-1995)

For selected civil cases from 1981-1995 you can search by name or browse within J 157. The sampled records cover appeals from all courts. Case files record basic details of the appeals procedure and do not contain much information on the original case or any evidence presented for the appeal.

3.4 Final and Interlocutory Appeals motions (1918-1926)

Interlocutory appeals appeal on an aspect of a case while the case is still proceeding, while the final appeal is on the case as a whole. A motion is an application to the court.

Notices of final appeals to the Court of Appeal for the period 1918-1926 are in J 69, together with copies of the original judgment.

Notices of interlocutory appeals – appeals against procedural orders in the case – are also in J 69, for 1918-1920. They may be endorsed with the Court of Appeal’s ruling or include a copy of its final order.

County Court cases include judges’ notes. Notices of final appeal had to be submitted within six weeks, and those of interlocutory appeals within 14 days of the previous ruling. Only cases from county courts have to give the grounds of appeal.

After 1927, only a 2% sample of appeal notices have been kept. You can search later notices by name of appellant or respondent.

3.5 Workmen’s compensation cases (1875-1951)

Notices of appeal from county courts in workmen’s compensation cases can be found in:

  • KB 25 for 1875-1906. You can browse KB 25 by date (see 3.2)
  • J 70 for 1907-1926. Browse by date and order all parts for the year of interest
  • J 71 for 1910-1951. Browse by date and order all parts for the year

Order books relating to workmen’s compensation appeal cases referred from County Courts are in J 72 and cover 1911-1926.

3.6 Records of the Employment Appeal Tribunal (1976-1988)

Selected case files are in series J 149 and are searchable by surname of appellant and the name of their employers.

Registers of cases are in series J 150, arranged by case number and year.

Transcriptions of judgments of the tribunal can be found on the BAILII website.

3.7 Appeals under the Benefices Act 1898 (1899-1952)

Appeals relating to an ecclesiastical benefice, which was heard by a judge of the Supreme Court and the archbishop of the province are in J 142.

You can search these records by name of appellant (often a vicar/rector) and respondent (title of Bishop).

4. If you can’t find a court of appeal civil case record

You can try looking for a High Court of Justice record which covers the period before the appeal. Only a 2% random sample of all High Court of Justice cases, together with cases considered to be of historical interest, are transferred to the National Archives.

You can search them by name within record series J 83 and J 84.

They can include:

  • the Notice of Appeal
  • the existing pleadings, orders and evidence submitted to the court appealed from
  • the judgment
  • in county court cases, judge’s notes

Confidential papers may be closed. Check the record description in our catalogue for further details.

5. Appeals to the House of Lords

Records relating to cases heard by the House of Lords on appeal are held by the Parliamentary Archives.

Copies of judgments made by the House of Lords on appeal from the Court of Appeal, together with petitions of appeal, are in KB 34/1 for the period 1885-1906.

Transcriptions of judgments in the House of Lords can be found on the BAILII website.

In 2009 the Supreme Court replaced the House of Lords as the highest court of appeal for civil cases in the United Kingdom.

6. Records in other archives

The Guildhall Library holds various collections of published law reports. Significant cases are likely to have been published in The Law Reports, giving:

  • the basic facts
  • arguments and the reason the court may have given for its judgment

The 1884 Law reports have been published in The Times (charges apply).

The British Library and the Law Society Library hold indexes to Court of Appeal transcripts. The Law Society Library  will provide copies of individual judgments for a fee

7. Further reading

Visit the National Archives’ shop for a range of publications relating to courts and the legal profession.

Lord Justice Cohen, ‘Jurisdiction, practice and procedure of the Court of Appeal’, Cambridge Law Journal, volume 11, number 1 (1951)