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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:

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.

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