PDF Imaged Copies of Case Law in Online Databases

At last week’s monthly meeting of Toronto legal research lawyers we discussed the availability of online PDF’ed versions of judicial decisions that have also been published in print by the publisher.

In the States, for example, decisions from the West National Reporter Series are available online on Westlaw in a text/HTML format, and – for an extra charge – as PDF versions which are exact copies of the print version.

In the U.K., there is Justis.com that provides PDF versions of the official U.K. Law Reports, in addition to HTML versions (and their HTML versions are great because they insert a horizontal line at the “page break” of the print version).

I believe there are other examples of PDFs being available (e.g., HeinOnline), but not for Canadian common law decisions, as far as I know. If it were to be done, presumably it would be by Carswell, Canada Law Book or Martime Law Book as the main publishers of print case-law reporters (but note that Carswell now provides PDF versions of pleadings as part of their Litigator product and Canada Law Book provides PDF versions of the original court judgment as part of their CaseImage service).

How important is this? It is certainly nice for older decisions where the electronic text or HTML version may not have proper print page numbering or paragraph numbering. As such, the user (i.e., lawyer or judge) has the ease and convenience of online access combined with the print equivalency of a PDF version (and it is usually quicker to print a PDF version for court than to have it properly photocopied).

Perhaps, though, it is less necessary for more recent decisions where courts have started to improve the format of their online judgments with consistent standards for paragraph numbering and so on. As such, I don’t expect to see a move towards the PDF’ing of older, published Canadian decisions, but it would be nice since it might make it easier to discard or weed our print collections of case law reporters.


  1. Ted and others will be pleased to note that CanLII now provide a new set of SCC older judgments, thanks to the Law Foundation of Ontario which generously support the acquisition of these files. What is more closely related to Ted’s comments is that on CanLII the PDF image of the report pages are accessible from these judgments.

    See for instance: City of Kitchener v. Robe and Clothing Company, 1925 CanLII 1 (S.C.C.) and its PDF. Page 110 contains an illustration of a grove in pavement.