Handy Tip: Using Google ‘Define’

When studying law, understanding the terms that you use and how to use them is important. This is because a level of precision regarding language is needed within legal studies.

A lecturer once told me, “You can physically take a glass out onto the terrace, but you may not!” In these circumstances, knowing the difference between ‘must’, ‘shall’, ‘may’, ‘can’ or ‘cannot’ may help with your essay writing. It can improve the style of your writing and make the central argument and analysis more convincing.

Other times, you will be expected to use specialist legal terminology. If you are unsure, you  you should look up the terms in a legal dictionary. There are lots of physical copies of legal dictionaries in the UWE library, as well as, electronic copies that you can access online.

Additionally, you may read something in a journal article or book that you may not understand. I often underline this word and use ‘Google define’ to help me understand what it is and write a note in the margin to myself.

Using Google, if you type ‘define’ and then the word that you are looking for, it acts as an online dictionary. For example, if I were looking for the term ‘sanction’, I would type in ‘define sanction’ into Google. A box with definitions will then appear on your browser, like below!

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Just be aware that there may be one or more definitions for a given word. A sanction in law means something different from that used in ‘normal English’, so in that case, it would be worthwhile to consult a dictionary specifically for law.

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Quick Tip #1 – Westlaw searches

Quick Tip: –

If you are struggling to find information on Westlaw because your search is turning up too many results, try using the Westlaw subject hierarchy. This allows you to search journal articles, cases, legislation etc using the subjects which the document has been tagged with. It’s a considerably more exact way of searching than, for example, a keyword search.

It’s also very simple to use:

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Using Parliament.uk

As promised, another post on Parliamentary sources – this time, a quick guide to using the official website of Parliament.

You will find most of the Parliamentary material you need hosted on the Parliament website. This post will focus on how to use the website, and therefore assumes a basic knowledge of different Parliamentary bodies and procedures. (You can see the Parliamentary dictionary if some terms are unfamiliar.)

Parliamentary business is most often found in Hansard, the official record of Parliament. This can be accessed through the homepage, or by using this link. From here there are a number of options. Some of those most likely to be useful are explored below:

  1. Commons and Lords Hansard

This can be accessed by clicking the link on the main page:

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There are then a number of searches which can be performed. It is possible to do a general search within Hansard for a specific term – for example “benefit sanctions” – which will bring up a list of all items where this term is found:

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The drop-down menus on the main page also bring up a number of ways to search which may or may not be useful to your research. For example, “Browse MPs/Peers” allows you to search for contributions from specific people:

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  1. Written Questions and Answers and Written Statements

Again, this can be accessed by clicking the link on the main page:

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This will then bring up a search box which offers various options for searching. Most of these are self explanatory:

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It is also possible to search written statements, and the daily reports by date:

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  1. Hansard archive

The Hansard pages discussed above only contain content for 2010 onwards. For pre-2010 content you will need to use the archives for the Lords and Commons.

  1. Other useful links

From the Parliament homepage, it is also possible to access a wide range of further documents and information. The easiest way to find these is simply to explore the website. If you are unfamiliar with Parliament, the ‘About Parliament’ section of the website may be a useful place to start:

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You will also need to be familiar with the ‘Parliamentary business’ section:

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Parliament is not always the most obvious resource to use in legal research, but it can often be a rich source of information for a number of different resources. For example, debates and Committee scrutiny of Bills may provide useful information on Legislation you are discussing in your research; Committee inquiries, debates and Early Day Motions can often provide analysis and examples of a law in operation; written answers are a good source for statistical data on specific subjects. It may be worth searching the Parliamentary website during your research to help provide secondary material and analysis.

A Parliamentary Dictionary

This post is intended to give a brief overview with useful links to some of the terms which you may come across when using Parliamentary sources. There is a full glossary available on the Parliamentary website. The next post will give a guide to using the Parliamentary website.

Bill  – A series of proposals introduced to Parliament to amend, repeal or create a piece of Legislation.

See also:

Draft Bills 

Public Bills 

Private Bills 

Private Members’ Bills 

Hybrid Bills 

Cabinet – Leading ministers who are responsible for the operation, policy and running of government departments.

Committees – Committees of either the House of Commons, House of Lords or Joint Committees of both Houses perform a scrutinising role. They examine Bills and recommend amendments, hold inquiries to produce reports and scrutinise topical or specialist issues. Which work they undertake depends on the nature of the Committee.

See also:

Legislative Committee 

Select Committee 

Delegated Legislation – Regulations made by individual ministers under powers granted by primary legislation.

See also:

Statutory Instruments 

Devolution – A grant of limited power away from Parliament to other law-making bodies, for example the Scottish Parliament, Northern Ireland Assembly or Welsh Assembly.

Gunpowder Plot 1605 – A failed plot by Guy Fawkes and other conspirators to blow up the Houses of Parliament.

Hansard – The official report of proceedings in the Houses of Parliament.

Henry VIII clauses – Clauses in primary legislation which allow for amendment or repeal without further Parliamentary scrutiny.

House of Commons – The elected chamber of Parliament. It is made up of Members of Parliament who belong to a certain political party or sit as an independent. The major parties in the Commons are: the Conservative and Unionist Party (Conservatives), the Labour Party (Labour), the Scottish National Party (SNP), the Liberal Democrats (Lib Dems).

House of Lords – The unelected chamber of Parliament. It is made up of Peers, who are nominated to the Peerage by the Prime Minister and ennobled by the Monarch. They may sit under the whip of any of the parties, or as an independent.

Legislation – Law which has passed through both Houses of Parliament and received Royal Assent.

See also:

Acts of Parliament 

Delegated Legislation 

The Parliament Acts 

Member of Parliament (MP) – A representative elected under First Past the Post to represent their constituency in the House of Commons.

See also:

AM – Assembly Member (Wales) 

MLA – Member of the Legislative Assembly (Northern Ireland) 

MSP – Member of the Scottish Parliament 

Opposition – The official opposition to the government, made up of the largest party other than the governing party.

Parliamentary Privilege – Certain immunities which apply only within the Parliamentary estate.

Royal Prerogative – The powers given to the Monarch under the constitution.

Shadow Cabinet – The opposition equivalent to the cabinet, who hold cabinet members to account.

Written Questions – Questions tabled by ministers in writing, to which written answers are given.

How to locate a journal article using the reference

This post aims to provide you with a helpful guide to finding journal articles using a reference, this will be most useful in locating your recommended reading you are directed to by your lecturers. Before you can find a journal using the reference, first you need to understand the reference:

Understanding the parts of the reference

[Author], ‘[Journal Title]’ ([Year]) [Volume] ([Issue]) [Name of Publication] [Starting Page Number]

Example:

R Cotterrell, ‘Subverting Orthodoxy, Making Law Central: A View of Sociolegal Studies’ (2002) 29(4) Journal of Law and Society 632

This journal article is written by R Cotterrell, the title of the article is Subverting Orthodoxy, Making Law Central: A View of Sociolegal Studies, it was published in 2002 in volume 29, issue 4 of the Journal of Law and Society, and the article begins on page 632.

This is a lot of information, delivered in a concise format, and understanding each piece of information helps us to locate the article, think of the reference as being the article’s address. The aim of this post is to demonstrate how each part of the reference may be used, in conjunction with the library resources, to locate the article.

Searching using the title

Many journals are retrievable directly from a search of the library using the title of the journal:

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Simply enter the title of the journal in the search box, press search and…

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If the article can be found, it will usually be the top result, as can be seen above, we can also see that the library has the full text online, so click on the link and you will be taken to the article.

Sometimes things are not as straightforward as this; searching using the library in this way involves the library searching databases for the title you have asked for, this saves you a lot of time, you then get the relevant result. Unfortunately the library search does not have the ability to search every database in this way, some databases do not allow the library search tool to search for titles within their database. If your title search fails, then you need to use the publication name in order to locate the correct database yourself.

Searching using the Publication Name

As you can see from the breakdown of the reference, we can use the reference to identify the name of the publication the journal is published in.

Sometimes the full name will be given, for example here highlighted in red is the publication name within a reference:

R Cotterrell, ‘Subverting Orthodoxy, Making Law Central: A View of Sociolegal Studies’ (2002) 29(4) Journal of Law and Society 632

Other times an abbreviation of the publication name will be given, for example here highlighted in red is the abbreviated publication name within a reference:

  1. Gomulka, ‘Will UBS mark the end of rogue trading or the beginning of regulatory collapse?’(2012) 12 (2) JIBFL 120

As you become more experienced, you will begin to recognise publications from their abbreviations, but when you are unfamiliar with the abbreviation can find the title using Cardiff Index to Legal Abbreviations; this useful resource allows you to search for titles using abbreviations, and vice versa. Taking the JIBFL as an example we can search the index like so:

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The search will then return matching results, in some cases there may be more than one result, but in the example search, we get one result:

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We now have the title of the journal, Journal of International Banking and Financial Law, and we can search for this title using the library search:

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By entering this search term the library will provide result which will include databases where we can access this publication, if the library has access to the publication.

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We can see from the results that the top two entries hold full text of the publication we are looking for, and the second result shows us that the publication is available from Lexis Library. The links provided by the library search results will take us directly to the publication, within the database:

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From this page we can use the various sections of the reference to search for the article, we can enter the author and the title, which in this case takes us directly to the article:

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Or we can use the reference to browse for the article, this will make use of the year or volume, the issue and the page number of the article to locate it. So in our example we can take the year and volume, then the issue and finally the page number

  1. Gomulka, ‘Will UBS mark the end of rogue trading or the beginning of regulatory collapse?’(2012) 12 (2) JIBFL 120

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When using Lexis Library, browsing involves expanding the relevant section by clicking on the plus (+) sign. Once you have found the issue you are looking for, expand it and then you can view the articles by title, in page number order:

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The interface you will meet at each database you use will be different, some are much easier to use than others, but the aim of this guide is to allow you to understand the reference you have been given, and be able to locate the journal using that information. My best advice is to keep practicing, you will learn to recognise abbreviations, so you will not need to use the abbreviations index as often. You will also learn which databases hold which publications. This guide will be most useful when do not have that experience, and you can fall back on this process. If you are still having trouble locating journals then come see us in the ASC. If you have followed this guide, and you are still unable to locate the article then contact the lecturer who set the reading.

Using HUDOC – a basic guide to searching for judgments from the European Court of Human Rights

HUDOC is the database of judgments from the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). If you know the name of the case you wish to read, it is often quickest simply to run a Google search – you will often have to use “[case name] HUDOC” in order to get a result from HUDOC and not from other sources – but there are also a number of useful ways of searching HUDOC if you are beginning research or searching for new cases.

How wide you wish your search to be, how many sources there are, and any constraints on your search will often determine the best way to approach the resource. On the HUDOC home page are a number of different filters to begin searching, and it would be impractical to go through them all. The best way of learning to search HUDOC is simply to play around with it. But there are some basics which will make your research in HUDOC much easier.

  • Language filters

Judgments from the ECtHR are available in a variety of languages, predominantly English and French. Being monolingual, I always begin any search by selecting the English language filter – cases not available in English are, unfortunately, not going to help my research:

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More than one language filter can be selected. Each time a filter is selected the list of cases will update itself automatically.

  • Article filters

As with language, it is also possible to filter by the Article of the European Convention that you are interested in:

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Clicking on ‘More’ will bring up all of the possible filters:

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For example, here is the list of cases where “English” and all of the “Article 4” filters are selected:

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  • Other filters

There are a number of other filters under the left hand sidebar “Narrow Your Search”. These include by the court giving the judgment, by whether there was a violation found or not and by the country defending the case. All of these may be more or less important depending on the nature of your research. Language and Article are likely be the two filters you most frequently use, however.

  • “Sort by”

In the top right hand corner is a drop down menu for how cases are sorted:

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Relevance is likely to be the most useful search for general research, but other options may be helpful. For example, if you know that domestic law fundamentally changed after a certain date, cases brought under the old law may not be relevant, so Sort by: -> Date (newest) might be a more helpful option.

  • Advanced search

Clicking the “Advanced Search” link in the top right hand corner brings up a number of further options to use alongside, or instead of, the filters:

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There are small grey question marks next to each field, and hovering over these will bring up further information on what each field searches for. It’s worth becoming familiar with this before beginning research, as this is likely to provide the most focussed searches.

For any questions on how to use HUDOC, the best place to start is with their FAQs. But a knowledge of basic filters and searches should be enough to find relevant ECtHR judgments within HUDOC for your research.