REPORTS (in Law) are relations of the proceedings of courts of law and equity. They contain a statement of the pleadings, the facts, the arguments of coun sel, and the judgment of the court in each case reported. The object of them is to establish the law, and prevent conflicting decisions, by preserving and publishing the judgment of the court, and the grounds upon which it decided the ques tion of law arising in the case.
The earliest reports extant are the Year-books.' It is said that some few exist in MS. of the reign of Edward I., and a few broken notes are to be found in Fitzherbert's Abridgment. A series of these commences, and are now printed, from the reign of Edward II. They were published annually, which explains their name, from the notes of persons, four in number, according to Lord Coke, who were paid a stipend by the crown for the purpose of committing to writing the proceedings of the courts. These early accounts of cases are very short, abrupt, and often confused, especially from the circumstance that it is frequently difficult to ascertain whether a judge or a counsel is speaking. At that time judges were dismissed at the pleasure of the crown, and after their dismissal returned to their previous position of counsel.
The Year-books continue, with occa sional interruptions in their series, down to the reign of Henry VIII. The omis sion during the time of Richard II. has been attempted to be supplied by Bellewe, who collected and arranged the cases of that period which had been preserved by other writers. The Year-books are wholly written in Norman-French, although by 36 Edw. III. stet. 1, c. 15, it was enacted that all pleadings should be in the Eng lish language, and the entries on the rolls in Latin. The Norman-French continued to be used by some reporters even as late as the eighteenth century. The last which appeared in that tongue were those of Levinz and Lutwyche : the former in 1702; the latter, in French and Latin, in 1704. The Year-books of later date have more continuity of style and fulness of discussion : cases are cited, and the de 1 of the court is given at greater length. About the end of the reign of Henry VII. it is probable that the stipend was withdrawn. Only five Year-books exist for the ensuing reign, and none were published after it. Lord Coke ob serves, that there is no small difference between the cases reported in the reign of Henry VIII. and those previous. Their place was shortly afterwards supplied by reports compiled and published by pri vate individuals on their own responsi bility, but subject for some time to the inspection and approbation of the judges, whose testimony to the ability and fitness of the reporter is often prefixed to the Reports. This however soon became a mere form, as appears by the statement of Lord-Keeper North, who speaks slight ingly of the Reports in his time as com pared with his favourite Year-books. During the reign of Henry VIII. and
his three successors, Dyer, afterwards chief-justice of the Common Pleas, took notes as a reporter. Benloe and Dalison were also reporters in these reigns. In the time of Elizabeth many eminent law yers reported the proceedings of the courts, and from the ability with which they acquitted themselves. added to the previously unsettled state of the law, the Reports of about this period have acquired very great authority. Anderson, Moore, Leonard, Owen, Coke, and Croke all lived about this time. But the first printed accounts of cases published by a private hand are those of Edmund Plowden, the first part of which appeared in the year 1571, under the title of Commentaries.' A few years afterwards the executors of Dyer published the notes of their testator under the express name of Reports,' being the first published under that title.1 These were followed, in 1601 and 1602, by those of Sir Edward Coke, which, from their excellence, have ever been dignified by the name of `The Reports.' During this time reporters did not, as they have done in more modern times, confine themselves to one court. In the same volume are found reports of cases in chancery, in the three superior courts, the court of wards, &c. During the reign of James I., Lord Bacon and Sir Julius Caesar suggested to the king the appointment of two officers for the pur pose of taking notes and minutes of pro ceedings in the courts. James acceded to the suggestion, and a copy of his ordi nance for their appointment, at a salary of 100/. each, is still extant. (Rymer's Fcedera, 15 Jac. I.1617.) The ordinance does not however appear to have been acted upon, and Reports continued to be compiled and published by private hands only.
The English language was first used by reporters about the time of Elizabeth. Lord Coke employed it in his Commen tary upon Littleton.' In his preface he states why he thought it convenient to do so; and adds that his conduct was not without precedent. From the period of Elizabeth down to the present, reports have been published of the proceedings in all the courts. The whole body of Re ports is now very large. Every court has its reporters, who are not persons authorized by the courts. The reporters use their own judgment as to what they shall report, and their volumes often con tain trifling matters and are swelled out to a most unreasonable and useless bulk.
A good record of cases decided, with a brief statement of the cases and the grounds of the decision, is certainly both useful and necessary ; but the great mass of reported cases and the trifling matter of many of them have had the effect of making lawyers rely more on the judg ments in particular cases than on those general principles of law which have an extensive application and are the surest foundation for a sound legal opinion.
(Coke's Reports, Preface to Part 3; Dugdale's Origins Juridicales ; Reeves's History of the English Law.)