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Legal research for historians: Great Britain

What are statutes?

In Great Britain, proposed legislation first appears as a Bill before Parliament, where it is debated. A Bill is a draft law; it becomes an Act if it is approved by a majority in the House of Commons and House of Lords, and formally agreed to by the reigning monarch (known as Royal Assent).

Public Bills cover matters of general interest and importance; Private Bills cover essentially personal or local matters. 

Statutes comprise Public and Private Acts, plus secondary legislation.

To trace the history of a bill in Parliament, see the U.K. Parliamentary Papers and other resources listed at British Parliamentary Papers.

It may also be helpful to consult Secondary Legislation on the official web site of Parliament,

Statutes before 1800

Justis UK Legislation 
Provides searchable full-text access to UK Statutes back to 1235, Statutory Instruments back to 1671, Local Acts back to 1797, and a collection of Private Acts back to 1539.

The statutes of the realm (1225-1713) Printed by command of His Majesty King George the Third. [London, G. Eyre and A. Strahan, 1810-22]
Firestone Library (F) Very Large Books KD130 1225f

The statutes at large, from Magna Charta [electronic resource], to the twenty-fifth year of the reign of King George the Third, ... By Owen Ruffhead, Esq. A new edition, in ten volumes, revised, corrected, and continued, by Charles Runnington, ... London: printed by Charles Eyre and Andrew Strahan; and by William Woodfall and Andrew Strahan, 1786.

The statutes at large, of England and of Great Britain : from Magna Carta to the union of the kingdoms of Great Britain and Ireland.: London : Printed by G. Eyre and A. Strahan, 1811. 20 v.
Firestone Library (F) KD130 1811
Location has: Vol. 1, vol.3 ; vol. 6-vol. 20

Acts and ordinances of the interregnum, 1642-1660. Collected and ed. by C.H. Firth and R.S. Rait for the Statute Law Committee ... Published/Created: London, Pub. by H.M. Stationery Off., Printed by Wyman and Sons, Limited, 1911.
Firestone Library (F) DA400 .A5 1911

Statutes after 1800

All Acts in the form in which they are passed are published in Public General Acts:

Justis UK Legislation
Provides searchable full-text access to UK Statutes back to 1235, Statutory Instruments back to 1671, Local Acts back to 1797, and a collection of Private Acts back to 1539.

Acts of the UK Parliament (1988 onwards)

The public general acts and General Synod measures. London : H.M.S.O., 1973-
Firestone Library (F) KD124 .G74
Location has: 1887 - 2008 Note: Columbia Law Library, NYU Law Library, and Penn Law Library (all relatively easily accessible from Princeton) have this same set, but back to 1866. There is also a microfilm set titled Public General Acts, 1801-1922.  The closest law libraries that own it are Georgetown and Yale.  Columbia has a microform set titled Public statutes of Great Britain, 1714-1933.

The Statutes of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. London: His Majesty’s Statute and Law Printers, 1807-1869. 63 v.
Firestone Library (F) KD691 .A29
Location has: 1807-1829

Statutes in force are assembled periodically:

The statutes, second revised edition; from the twentieth year of the reign of Henry III ... to the second session of the sixty-fourth year of Queen Victoria. London, Stationery office, 1888-1909
Firestone Library (F) KD150 .G743 1888 (20 volumes)

The statutes, from the twentieth year of King Henry the Third to the [tenth chapter of the twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth years of King George the Sixth] A. D. 1235-1948. Prepared under the editorship of Sir Robert Drayton] Firestone Library (F) KD140 .G743 1950
Location has: Vol. 1-v. 32; Table; Suppl.; Index, v.1-2

These are the second and third edition of the Statutes Revised.  We don't have the first (1870) edition. These only contain statutes in force when the editions were printed. These sets were superseded by Statutes in Force, a looseleaf service published by H.M.S.O., which we do not have and which is itself now superseded.

Halsbury's Statutes
The Laws of England: being a complete statement of the whole laws of England. The Earl of Halsbury and other lawyers.London: Butterworth; Philadelphia, Pa.: Cromarty Law Book Co. [distributors], 1907-1917.
This 31 volume set is arranged by topic and contains many references to cases.
Firestone KD310 .L397 1907

Note: we do not have any edition of Chitty's Statutes of Practical Utility.

The commercial version of Lexis-Nexis includes statutes in force. A password is required for access; see a reference librarian, who will log you in. 

Private and local bills and acts

Microform: Local, personal and private acts of Great Britain, 1798-1850
Digital: Private and Local Bills and Acts (1695-1834) in House of Commons Parliamentary Papers

Indexes to statutes

Public Acts:

Index to the statutes in force. London, H.M. Stationery Off.
Firestone Library (F)  KD142.3 .C4764

Useful for identifying statutes by subject.

Guide to government orders, indexing S.R. & Os. and S. Is. in force 31st December 1951 London, H.M. Stationery off., 1952.
Firestone Library (F) KD170 .G743 1952
The abbreviation stands for "Statutory Rules and Orders and Statutory Instruments."

Private and local Acts:

Chronological table of local legislation. The Law Commission and the Scottish Law Commission. London: HMSO, 1996.
Contents: v. 1. Local and personal acts, 1797-1860 -- v. 2. Local and personal acts, 1861-1890 -- v. 3. Local and personal acts, 1891-1910 -- v. 4. Local and personal acts, 1911-1994.
Firestone Library (F) Oversize KD142.6 .C48 1996q

Chronological table of local legislation 1797-1994 and chronological table of private and personal acts 1539-1997: supplement (including corrections to the first edition texts).
London : Stationery Office, 2000.
Firestone Library (F) Oversize KD142.6 .C766 2000q

Index to the local and personal acts, 1797-1849. Compiled by Rosemary Devine. London : Stationery Office, 1999.
Firestone Library (F) KD142.6 .D479 1999

Index to the local and personal acts, 1850-1995. Compiled by Rosemary Devine. London : HMSO, 1996.
Firestone Library (F) Oversize KD142.6 .D48 1996q (4 volumes)