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University of Wollongong Australia

Law: Case Law

Australian Law Reports and Cases

Case Law databases

Updating Cases

To ensure the cases are still 'good' law (i.e. not overruled by subsequent cases) ...

  • Research the judicial history of a case to ascertain whether the case has been overruled by subsequent cases or it is still being used.
  • Check the judicial history of the case. This may also alert you to more recent judgments on your topic. This task is usually referred to as noting up.
  • Noting up Australian cases is done by using a case citator. Common Australian case citators are Westlaw AU: FirstPoint, and LexisNexis AU: CaseBase
  • The most noteworthy annotations in a case citator are: disapproved, overruled, applied and followed.
  • A detailed description of these terms can be found:
  • Westlaw AU: -> Help -> Content Overviews -> Status Symbols Guide
  • Lexis Advance Pacific Research -> Help -> Tutorials -> Tutorials: CaseBase -> CaseBase Signals
  • Annotations differ between databases.

Case Citators

A Case Citator is a legal research tool which allows you to find cases, track a case's history and it's treatment by subsequent courts, and provide links to relevant cases, legislation and secondary sources. They allow you to determine if your case is still good law.

If you cannot access the full-text of an authorised version in one Case Citator, try another one. For example, the full-text of CLR (the most authoritative report of High Court decisions) will be available in FirstPoint.*

Law Reports - About

A list of Australian and International law reports is available in the Australian Guide to Legal Citation (Third edition): Appendix, pp. 285-315. Authorised, official or preferred series are identified with an asterisk.
Law reports: authorised reports
  • Authorised law reports are cases that have been approved by the judge before publishing and are viewed as an accurate record of the judgment. They contain decisions of the court or tribunal.
  • Cases are often reported in more than one law report series, such as CLR and ALR; citing the authorised report is preferable, if available. Note: not all law reports are authorised.*
  • Not all decisions are published. However this does not mean that unreported or unpublished decisions are not available.*
  • Cases reported in an authorised series must be cited in court rather than relying on printouts from databases such as AustLII.
If you cannot access the full-text of an authorised version in one Case Citator, try another one. For example, the full-text of CLR (the most authoritative report of High Court decisions) will be available in FirstPoint.*
Law reports: specialist reports

Specialist reports cover only one area of law.

Examples include:

  • Australian Criminal Reports
  • Australian Tax cases
  • Intellectual Property Reports
Law reports: unauthorised reports
  • While not the preferred authoritative version, unauthorised reports are a legitimate record of court decisions and may be the only source to locate certain cases.*
  • If a judgment is published in both an authorised and unauthorised report series, cite the authorised version.*

Finding law reports

A list of Australian and International law reports is available in the Australian Guide to Legal Citation (Third edition): Appendix, pp. 285-315. Authorised, official or preferred series are identified with an asterisk.
Authorised reports for specific courts

High Court: Commonwealth Law Reports (CLR)

Federal Court: Federal Court Reports (FCR)

Administrative Appeals Tribunal: Administrative Law Decisions (ALD) (1976-2006)

Administrative Law Decisions (ALD) (1976+)

Australian Industrial Relations Commission: Industrial Reports (IR) (1980+)

Supreme Court of New South Wales: New South Wales Law Reports (NSWLR) (1971+)

State Reports NSW (SR NSW) (1901-1970)

New South Wales Law Reports (LR NSW) (1880-1900)

Supreme Court of Victoria: Victorian Reports (VR) (1957+)

Victoria Law reports(VLR) (1874-1956)

Supreme Court of the Australian Capital Territory: Australian Capital Territory Law Reports (ACTLR) (2008+)

Australian Capital Territory Reports (ACTR) (1973-2008)

Supreme Court of Queensland: Queensland Reports (QdR) (1958+) and other earlier Queensland law reports (from 1859)

Supreme Court of South Australia: South Australian State Reports (SASR) (1971+)

State Reports South Australia (SASR) (1921-1971)

South Australian law reports (SALR) (1863-1920)

Supreme Court of Tasmania: Tasmanian Reports (Tas R) (1992+)

Tasmanian Reports (Tas R) (1979-2009)

State Reports Tasmania (Tas SR) (1941-1978)

Tasmanian Law Reports (SALR) (1897-1940)

Supreme Court of Western Australia: Western Australian Reports (WAR) (1983+)

Western Australian Reports (WAR) (1960-2014)

Western Australian Law Reports (WALR) (1898-1958)

Supreme Court of Northern Territory: Northern Territory Law Reports (NTLR) (2008+)

Northern Territory Law Reports (NTLR) (1992-2009)

Northern Territory Reports (NTR) (1979+)

Find both authorised and unauthorised reports in our law databases

Unreported Cases

  • Court decisions not published in the law reports are called unreported judgments.
  • The majority of judgments are not published, and reasons include that the case is too recent, the case hasn't set a precedent, was viewed as having little significance, or is of a sensitive nature, and some will never be published.*
  • You may find out about these cases in newspapers, journal articles, databases or in a court hearing itself.
  • A Court cannot rely upon unreported judgments unless a barrister has authenticated a note or report of the judgment;** unreported decisions may remain in this format indefinitely due to a premium on space in the law reports
  • Unreported cases are recognised by their use of medium neutral citation.

Note that:

  • Unreported judgments can often be found in law databases or directly from the court's website. You may be able to purchase a pamphlet copy of a decision from Court Registries.*
  • Some District Court (NSW) and Local Court judgments are available to the public.
  • In civil cases, the judgment is available only to the parties involved
Medium neutral citation:
  • Media neutral citation or medium neutral citation is a citation that
    • is assigned by the court in which the case is heard
    • focuses on the court rather than the medium of print or online format
  • Only use medium neutral citation for unreported judgments
A list of Australian medium neutral identifiers is available in the Australian Guide to Legal Citation (Third edition): Appendix, Table A, pp. 316-318.
 
An example of medium neutral citation
An example of medium neutral citation.

Finding historical court decisions

Early Australian court decisions where often reported in newspapers and early court reports.* Newspapers & News Services Guide.

Not all judgments are published, even if they are mentioned in the news. Reasons include: the case hasn't set a precedent, was viewed as having little significance, or is of a sensitive nature.*

AustLII - Australian Legal History Libraries, includes:

  • Australasian Colonial Legal History Library (pre-1901)
  • Australasian Federation Law Library (1901-1950)
  • Australasian Modern Law History Library (1951-2000)

Many subscription legal databases contain historical cases. See Case Law Databases and Unreported Cases above.

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International Cases

Case Law Databases:

TIP: Unreported judgments can often be found directly from the court's website.

International Courts & Tribunals:

TIP: Unreported judgments can often be found directly from the court's website.

UK Courts & Tribunals:

TIP: Unreported judgments can often be found directly from the court's website.

NZ Courts & Tribunals:

TIP: Unreported judgments can often be found directly from the court's website.

Canadian Courts & Tribunals:

TIP: Unreported judgments can often be found directly from the court's website.

US Courts & Tribunals:

TIP: Unreported judgments can often be found directly from the court's website.

EU Courts & Tribunals:

TIP: Unreported judgments can often be found directly from the court's website.
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Cases Tutorials

What is Case Law?

Case law is:

  • the general term for the legal principles developed by judges to determine legal disputes
  • recorded in judicial decisions or judgments; only decisions from courts of record (e.g. cases that clarify/settle a principle of law heard in the superior courts, Supreme, Federal & High Court) are recorded in law reports
  • also known in Australia as common law or judge made law
  • valuable as precedents but constitutes only a small number of cases heard each year

There are three main ways to find cases:

  • Topic search (using search words and phrases)
  • Citation search (when you have the citation or party names)
  • From judicially considered legislation (when you link from legislation to related cases using a case citator such as CaseBase)
Using a case citator such as FirstPoint or CaseBase helps to find the preceding and subsequent judicial history of a case, as well as listing the legislation considered by the case, and relevant journal articles.*
Cases follow a standardised layout as seen in the interactive case below.

How to use Lexis Advance:

How to use Westlaw AU:

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Source

* Jay Sanderson and Kim Kelly (eds), A Practical Guide to Legal Research (Thomson Reuters, 4th ed, 2017).

** Enid Campbell, Lee Poh-York and Joycey Tooher, Legal Research; Materials and Methods, (4th ed, 1996) 97.

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