The measurement of immunoglobulin serum free light chains (sFLC) has prognostic significance in plasma cell dyscrasias but its role in chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL) is unknown. This retrospective study from three UK hospitals analysed sFLC in 181 untreated/pre-treatment CLL patients and 78 treated CLL patients, with samples taken later in their disease. An abnormal sFLC ratio was significantly associated with poor overall survival for the 181 untreated/pre-treatment patients (P = 0.0001) and for all patients (P = 0.002), irrespective of cause of death. Using multivariate analysis (n = 194), four independent prognostic variables for overall survival were identified namely Zap-70 (P = 0.0001), beta2M (P = 0.01), IGHV mutation status (P = 0.017) and an abnormal sFLC ratio (P = 0.024). For CLL patients with unmutated IGHV genes, elevated kappa/lambda ratios were adversely prognostic. For patients with mutated IGHV genes, reduced kappa/lambda ratios were adversely prognostic and associated with the poor prognostic IGHV3-21, IGHV3-48 and IGHV3-53 subgroups, suggesting an abnormal sFLC ratio may reflect biological subgroups within CLL. Abnormal sFLC ratios need to be studied prospectively in CLL patients and the biological rationale for their abnormality investigated.