Landmarks of Law Reporting 5 – Sir Edward Coke and “The Reports”

Sir Edward Coke (1552-1634), Les Reports de Edvvard Coke l’Attorney Generall le Roigne … (London, 1600?).

Sir Edward Coke’s Reports are perhaps the most influential reports in the history of English law, so much so that they are cited simply as “The Reports.” Their authority rests mainly on the high reputation of their author, and not on their accuracy or objectivity. Coke was not shy about inserting his own views, and set out not only to report the law but also to teach it. His vast learning spills out, rendering reports that are often disorderly.

The first volume of Coke’s Reports appeared in about 1600 (shown here), and met with such success that ten more volumes appeared in the next fifteen years. Legal historian T.F.T. Plucknett believes Coke may have been the first to report cases with the intent of publishing them soon after. When Coke was dismissed as a judge of King’s Bench in 1616, his political enemies (of which he had many) launched an investigation into alleged errors in the Reports, effectively halting his law reporting.

Coke on his Reports

“And now that I have taken upon myself to make a report of their arguments, I ought to do the same as fully, truly, and sincerely as possibly I can ; howbeit, seeing that almost every Judge had in the course of, his argument a particular method, and I must only hold myself to one, I shall give no just offense to any if I challenge that which of right is due to every Reporter, that is, to reduce the sum and effect of all to such a method as, upon consideration had of all the arguments, the Reporter himself thinketh to be fittest and clearest for the right understanding of the true reason and causes of the judgment and resolution of the case in question.” – Sir Edward Coke, Calvin’s Case, 8 Rep. 4a

MIKE WIDENER

Rare Book Librarian

“Landmarks of Law Reporting” is on display April through October 2009 in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

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