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Legal Research Skills Guide: What is case law?

What is Case law?

In Australia, which uses a common law system, Case law is an integral part of understanding, interpreting and applying the law.  In a common law system, the court must follow the doctrine of precedent, which means that where an authoritative judgment is made by a higher court, the rules expounded will be used and applied in subsequent matters with similar facts.

Case law can also be referred to as cases, court decisions, judgments, judicial decisions or the common law.

What you'll find in a Case

Generally you'll find the following elements in a Case:

  • court
  • parties — names of parties
  • judge/s
  • date of hearing
  • legal representation
  • medium neutral citation — citation applied by court
  • catchwords — summary of case in keywords
  • statement of facts
  • issue to be decided
  • discussion of relevant legal principles
  • judgement or conclusion
  • orders.