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Law: Case Law

Introducing Case Law

Case law refers to the decisions made by the courts which can both establish and refine legislative law.  Case law is also referred to as “common law”. 

Before judgments are published, many courts make them available online as Unreported judgments, sometimes referred to as medium neutral citations.

Significant cases are chosen to be published in law reports.  There are two types of law reports:

  • Authorised reports – have been reviewed by the presiding judge and published in the designated authorised report series for that jurisdiction. Here is a list of Australian Authorised Law Reports.
  • Unauthorised reports – may be published more quickly and appear in more specialised report series.

Cases which demonstrate significant points of law may be published in a number of report series, so there may be multiple citations for the one case. 

Always cite from an authorised report if it is available, in preference to an unauthorised report. Cite unreported judgments only if the case has not been otherwise reported.

Finding Cases

Finding a Case from a Citation

Use an abbreviations guide to find out the full title of the report series:

Then search for the law report series in Primo Search.  If the library subscribes to the report series, follow the link to view online and navigate to the correct volume.

Finding Cases on a General Topic

To identify the appropriate Case law, use secondary sources (encyclopaedias, textbooks, commentary or journal articles) to direct you to the major cases in a particular area of law

Australian Case Law Databases

Legal databases publish some case law. Once you know what you are looking for, search in these databases:

Westlaw AU - Search FirstPoint or browse using the Cases links on the left hand side

Lexis Advance Pacific - Search CaseBase or select the Cases tab across the top

AustLII Cases here usually list all 'parallel' citations so you can check whether the case has been reported and which version to use.

CCH Intelliconnect - search or browse for your topic, then narrow your search by selecting Category, then the cases will be grouped together.

CaseLaw NSW - Recent decisions for all Courts and Tribunals of NSW

Case Citators

Case Citators may help you find a case if you don't have the full citation. They can also give useful information around a case, such as whether it has been reported as an authorised version, judicial consideration, other cases that have considered it and legislation that has referred to it.

Case Law

International case law databases

For a more comprehensive list of International Law resources, see the International Law Library Guide

WorldLII - World Legal Information Institute - independent information about law from over 200 countries, as well as international law.

CommonLII - Commonwealth Legal Information Institute - legal information from all Commonwealth countries

SAFLII - South African legislation and cases

AfricanLII - Case law from the countries of Africa.

Ravel - from the USA. Some parts of this database are freely available

FindLaw - From the USA. Cases and Codes for both State and Federal laws of the USA.

Lauterpacht Centre for International Law - International cases and reports published at the University of Cambridge

BalLII - British and Irish Legal Information Institute - case law and legislation from Britain, Ireland and the European Union