Skip to main content

Legal Research Skills Guide: Anatomy of a case

Introduction to the Anatomy of a Case

When you’ve located the case you need, it’s important to understand the structure of a case, this will help you when you read and analyse the case. Understanding the elements of a case will also help you when you search for a case on a legal principle. Remember it is important to read a reported version of the case if it is available.

Essentially, there are two main parts of a case:

  • The decision (the judge’s words),
  • Everything else.

The decision will appear in the same format in all versions of the judgment, reported and unreported. You will find the supporting information and analysis in the case that surrounds the decision is much more substantial in a reported version. You should only cite details from the decision, not from other parts of the case.

The judgments in Commonwealth Law Reports (CLR) will contain a summary of the arguments that are used by both sides, this won’t appear in other law report series.

Elements of a Case - "Everything else"

Information about the case

This is the first section of the judgment and include the:

  • Names of the parties
  • Court name
  • Names of the judge(s)
  • Dates of the hearing, including the date of the judgment
  • Unreported or Medium Neutral citation

Catchwords

This is a series of terms and phrases that are raised by the case including references to legislation.

Headnotes

This section will include a summary of the facts and the outcome of the case. The content in this section is not considered part of the decision and should not be quoted as a version of the judge’s reasoning.

You may also find cases cited in this section.

Type of proceedings

Describes the nature of the case being reported including any case history.

Cur adv vult.

This stands for Curia advisari vult, a latin term which indicates that the matter was reserved and rendered at a later time after consideration. You may also find the phrase Judgment reserved in some report series.

Elements of a case - The decision

The decision

This is the full text of the decision and provides the ratio decindendi (reasons behind the decision). If there is more than one judge assigned to the case, each judge’s decision will be listed under their name.

Order

Each judge will outline their resulting decision, these may be included at the end of the full judgment, or at the end of their decision.

Names of counsel

These will be included at the end of the case.

Case Reporter

This is the person who has compiled the case you are reading.

Anatomy of a Case

Activity #18 - Anatomy of a case

Locate the full text of the following authorised law report - State of New South Wales v Robinson (2016) 93 NSWLR 208. Hint - make sure you search in the correct database for this law report series. Check the authorised law reports page for the correct database!

Answer the questions below to help you understand the anatomy of a case.