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Finding cases

A little bit about AustLII

The Australian Legal Information Insititute (AustLII) is a valuable source of free legal information. It provides access to a comprehensive range of legislation, journals, law reform commission materials and unreported judgments in all Australian jurisdictions.

AustLII is particularly useful for finding very recent cases, as it can sometimes take many months for a case to be reported in an authorised series.

However, remember that it is important to use the authorised version of a case if one is available.

AustLII

Q. A case was heard in the NSW Supreme Court 2 days ago. Find a copy ASAP.

Select New South Wales > Supreme Court of New South Wales 1993- > Recent Decisions

This is a list of the most recent decisions handed down by the court. Select a case name to view the full-text, then select Download to save a RTF version.

LawCite

This database is a collaboration project from the Free Access to Law Movement. It is an automatically generated international legal case and journal article citator.

Authorised versions

What is an authorised version of a case?

Each court has one series of law reports that is Authorised. If a case has been reported in an authorised series, then you should cite that version. If your case has only been reported in another series (not the authorised series), use that version. If your case remains unreported, it is OK to cite that version.

In a case citator citations are usually listed in order of preference, so it is easy to see which is the best version to use:

E.g.  The authorised version first > followed by the next preferred version > subject specific versions > unreported versions

This guide from the University of Melbourne will help you find the Authorised series for each court.

But what is a law report?

Good question! Significant judgments are published in law reports. These publications are designed to provide a comprehensive system of reporting and provide judges with written precedents. Cases that do not meet the criteria for publication in a law report belong to a large body of case law known as unreported judgments. Unreported judgments are now widely available online, either through AustLII or databases such as Lexis Advance Pacific and Westlaw AU.

For more information about the law reporting process and why it is important read this guide from the State Library of Victoria.

Finding cases on a topic

High Court of Australia. Image courtesy of Karleen Minney.

Often you are trying to find cases in a subject area, rather than a specific case. Case citators can also be used for this kind of searching.

Westlaw (Australia) Cases

Q. Find cases relating to the burden of proof in murder trials

In the Free Text Search box type "burden of proof" AND murder > View results

CaseBase

Q. Find cases about unfair dismissal due to different types of discrimination

In the Catchwords/Summary box type unfair dismissal and discrimination > View results > Select a case name to view the digest - your keywords will be highlighted in red.

Note: Apply filters normally located on the left-hand menu of the search interface, e.g., jurisdiction, date, practice areas, etc. will help improve the relevance of the search results.

Case Citators

What is a case citator?

Case citators are a good starting point for case law research.

Note: It is important to remember that when you are searching in a case citator you are not searching full-text case law. Citators are a case law index - they provide a range of information about a case, including:

  • Citation/s
  • Details of subsequent consideration of the case - including an indication of whether the case is still 'good law' - i.e. whether or not it has been overruled by a later decision.
  • Earlier cases considered by this case
  • Legislation judicially considered by this case
  • Journal articles about the case
  • Keywords and/or a digest summary of the key points of law
  • A link to the full-text of the case if available

Why use a case citator?

  • More relevant results - the information in a record has been written by a legal editor who has read the full judgment and summarised the key points of law
  • To check whether a case has been reported and/or identify the authorised or preferred version you should use
  • To quickly check the facts of a case, without reading the full judgment
  • To easily find details such as litigation history and subsequent consideration of a case

Finding cases by citation

The easiest way to find a case is by its citation - this is a unique identifier for the case. Sometimes, cases will have more than one citation, if they have been reported in different law report series.

Westlaw (Australia) Cases

This citator is published by Thomson Reuters

Q. Find a copy of the iiNet case 194 FCR 285

Select Advanced Search > In the Citation box type "194 fcr 285" > Confirm that the party name/s match the information you have, then select the case title to view the information about the case.

Note: The range of information provided:

  • Digest (including hyperlinked subject headings)
  • Litigation history
  • Cases cited
  • Legislation judicially considered
  • Noted in journals
  • Party names

Select the PDF link next to the citation to link to a full-text copy of the case.

Note: There are multiple citations for this case as it has been reported in more than one law report series. However, not all the citations are hyperlinked - this means that the law report is provided by a different publisher:

E.g. ALR - the Australian Law Reports - are published by LexisNexis AU, not Thomson Reuters

CaseBase

This citator is published by LexisNexis AU

Q. Find a copy of the Hindmarsh Island Bridge case [1998] HCA 22

In the Citation box type 1998 hca 22 > confirm that the party name/s and other information you have matches the result

Tip: To learn how to enter citations correctly select Citation Help

Note: The range of information provided:

  • Cases referring to this case
  • Journal articles referring to this case
  • Cases considered by this case
  • Legislation considered by this case
  • Catchwords & Digest

Note: We had the unreported citation for this case and could easily find a full-text version of the case in AustLII. However, by searching in CaseBase we have discovered that the case has been reported in the authorised series - the Commonwealth Law Reports. There is also a link to the ALR (Australian Law Reports) version, which is published by LexisNexis AU.

Finding cases by name

Often, the only information you have about a case is one or both of the party names. There are a few tips when searching by party name:

  • Omit articles such as 'a', 'the' in names as well as terms such as 'Pty Ltd' in a company name
  • Beware of abbreviations - sometimes the case will be listed under the abbreviation, other times you will need to search for the full name
  • Beware of names with difficult or unusual spelling - always double-check spelling
  • Generally you should omit the 'v' if searching for a full case name - check the database help section to find out the correct way to enter the names
  • Party names are not unique, so it is important to verify that the case is the correct one by checking other details such as date, judge, court, topic etc.
Q. Find the 2007 case ACCC v Knight

CaseBase

In the Case/Article Name box type accc and knight > 1 result - verify other details to make sure it is the correct case

Tip: Read the search tip underneath the search box to find out the correct way to enter party names

 

Westlaw (Australia) Cases

Select Advanced Search > In the Case Title/Party Name box type accc and knight > no results

Note: This may be an example when you need to try the full name, not the abbreviation

In the Case Name box type australian competition and consumer commission and knight > 5 result - select the relevant case name to view the digest

Tip: The moral of the story is: Don't give up on your first try - sometimes it is necessary to try multiple searches and multiple databases to find the case you need.