How to look for records of... Appeal cases after 1875
How can I view the records covered in this guide?
1. Why use this guide?
Use this guide if you are looking for a civil or criminal appeal case in England or Wales after 1875.
This guide mainly focuses on the Appeal Court, the second highest court in the land established in 1875. It originally only heard civil cases, but from 1966 it also heard criminal cases.
2. Essential information
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 records are held by The National Archives.
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).
Significant cases are likely to have been published in The Law Reports, giving basic facts. From 1884 Law reports were published in The Times (£) which you can view free of charge at The National Archives, Kew.
3. How to find civil appeal cases
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 Appeal Court.
It is useful to know which court the appeal came from as this affects where you look for records.
However for civil cases from 1981-1995 search by name within J 157. The sample covers appeals from all courts.
3.1 Cases from the Chancery Division
For 1875-1955, cases that came from Chancery Division of the High Court should have an entry in the Entry Books of Decrees and Orders in J 15. There will also be a note of the decision made by the Appeal Court.
Read the J 15 series description in our catalogue to find out how the records are arranged. This will help you then search these records.
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
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 date.
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 3.4).
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.
3.3 Final and Interlocutory Appeals motions (J 69)
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.
3.4 Workmen’s compensation cases
Notices of appeal from county courts in workmen’s compensation cases are for:
- 1875-1906 in KB 25. You can browse KB 25 by date
- 1907-1926 in J 70. Browse by date and order all parts for the year of interest
- 1910-1951 in J 71. Browse by date and order all parts for the year
Order books relating to workmen’s compensation appeal cases are in J 72 and cover 1911-1926.
3.5 Appeals under the Benefices Act 1898 (J 142)
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).
3.6 Court of Appeal transcripts 1951-1980
These transcripts have been published on microfiche by HMSO together with an index of plaintiffs and defendants, both available at The British Library. The Law Society Library also holds a copy of the index and will provide copies of individual judgments for a fee.
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 (£).
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.
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. Criminal appeals cases
5.1 Pre 1907
Before 1907 rights of appeal were much more restricted and were heard by the Court for the Consideration of Crown Cases Reserved.
This court’s order books only survive for 1853-1859 and are in KB 31. The pleadings of the court for 1848-1888 are in KB 30 but do not give the results of cases. You can browse both record series by year, but not by name.
5.2 The Court of Criminal Appeal 1907-1966
The Court of Criminal Appeal was established in 1907 and heard appeals in criminal cases, both on the verdict and on the sentence.
Registers of the Court of Criminal Appeal, from 1908 (but with a gap from 1910-1913) are in J 81. Search these by date. For later years there are multiple pieces for each year, you will need to order each piece as your case could be in any of them.
- the name of the applicant
- date and place of conviction
- the offence, sentence, type of appeal
- whether leave to appeal and legal aid was granted
- the outcome
Some earlier files of cases originally heard by the Central Criminal Court that went on to appeal, such as the Crippen case of 1910 and the Casement case of 1916, are in CRIM 1. Search these by name of defendant and charge.
Selected case files, from 1956, with a few files from 1945, are in J 82 and include formal notices of Appeal and shorthand notes of the original trial. You can search these by name of accused or charge.
Transcripts of proceedings in selected criminal cases, brought by the Director of Public Prosecutions, some of which went on to appeal, are in DPP 4. Search by name and offence/charge.
5.3 Criminal appeals after 1966
In 1966 the Court of Criminal Appeal was merged with the Appeal Court, sitting in two divisions, one civil and the other criminal.
A selection of judges’ notebooks from Court of Appeal and Court of Criminal Appeal proceedings are in J 130. Apart from one relating to Roger Casement’s trial in 1916, these start in 1947. You can search by judge’s name and sometimes by area of law or type of court.
6. 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.
The highest court of appeal is now the Supreme Court.
7. Records in other archives
The Guildhall Library holds various collections of published law reports.
8. Further reading
Pattenden, English criminal appeals, 1844-1944: appeals against conviction and sentence in England and Wales (Clarendon, 1996)
Lord Justice Cohen, ‘Jurisdiction, practice and procedure of the Court of Appeal’, Cambridge Law Journal, vol. 11, no. 1 (1951)