The best and possibly the forerunner of a genuinely comprehensive free legal database is the British and Irish Legal Information Institute which is the brainchild of Laurie West-Knights QC and accomplished using the Australian model developped by AUSTLII. The idea is to have all judgments and legislation on one site with one search engine paid for by "stakeholders" (including the government), not the users. All the State's legal resources which are free have been collated onto BAILII (e.g. House of Lords, HMSO), so while I will put on the individual website details I find it best to search from BAILII first
Pros: Easily the best search engine (especially for full text search), best inter-referencing (e.g. amendments to legislation), quick
Cons: Reports a few months behind where it depends on commercial transcribers (e.g. CA), no summaries
All the government's sites seem to have got much better in the past two years or so - mind you they were woeful before. HMSO have collated all the Acts of Parliament since 1988, Statutory Instruments since 1987, Local Acts since 1991 and various peripheral material. They have been promising since at least 1999 to put all English statutes online in a consolidated form within a reasonable amount of time but have so far only got to the eighties.
Pros: What they have is good, reasonably quick and efficent search engine
Cons: Not consolidated, doesn't go back very far, searches can produce large amounts of dross, breaks up Acts into short bits meaning one has to constantly jump in and out of links
House of Lords
One of the first (1996), if not the first, State legal resources online which is reflected in the higher judiciary's keenness to promote online law (particularly Lord Savile and Lord Justice Brooke).
Pros: Comprehensive from 1996, Judgements are posted very quickly
Cons: No dedicated search engine (they use the UK parliament website one), breaks up judgements into short bits
This contains a selection (seemingly random) of Court of Appeal decisions, Chancery, Family and QB decisions and 3 Supreme Court Costs decisions. While it used to be embarrassing (it had 2 decisions for the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division) for about 4 years), it has recently picked up but I think BAILII has almost everything it has.
Pros: Can't think of any
Cons: Use BAILII
ICLR Daily Law Notes
A service provided by the RCJ and the ECJ which provides daily up to date summaries of high profile cases. The summaries however are very short but provide enough information to be able to hit another website with at least a case name to find the full text or report.
Pros: Very up to date and comprehensive from a range of Courts
Cons: Very limited information
Not strictly case law or legislation but since Pepper v Hart (and the recent case of Montila in the House of Lords) has to be considered. Arguably it is relevant to most cases about recent legislation as the sheer volume and pace at which it is drafted and passed means that any hint as to how to resolve the apparent contradictons within a statute can only be gratefully received. The link above is to Hansard but I am also including a link to the Parliament Website which contains bills and other useful information which is probably best placed here.
Cons: Only since 1988
Very useful website particularly for criminal practitioners as it has the JSB Specimen directions. it also has various handbooks (in all areas) including the Competence handbook for Chairs of Tribunals. I am not going to mention pros or cons save to say it is a considerable improvement on the old JSB site and is well designed and quick.
Used to have a bad search engine and still suffers a bit from bad cross-referencing and a limited age of cases but quite useful especially for High Court and Court of Appeal Judgements.
Pros: Very up to date, provides summaries and full text judgements meaning searches can be more easily focussed for the amateur
Cons: Discussed above
Smith Bernal have put the judgements of the High Court and Court of Appeal that they transcribe on this database (for some reason not clear to a mere criminal hack the transcribers own the copyright on judgements - but they have been generous in releasing judgements to BAILII). Used to have an appalling search engine but the whole site has been revamped. However its full text search is still not great and it helps to know exactly what case you are looking for. It is also limited to its own transcriptions and my understanding is that other transcribers work in the High Court and the Court of Appeal so it is not comprehensive (though I believe it is at least 60% of all judgments at the RCJ).
Pros: Right up to date judgements with full text
Cons: Limited, bad search engine
If anybody has a comment or correction please reply through the comments box.