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Starting legal research

How to find cases for Business Students

Below is a short introductory video on Primary and Secondary legal materials

Starting your research

Primary legal materials are the authoritative records of law. These are:

  • Legislation made by Parliament
  • Rules, regulations, orders and by-laws of bodies that have delegated authority to administer these laws
  • Authoritative reports of court decisions or case law

Secondary sources of law refer, discuss and help locate the law but are not primary sources.  They can help in understanding the law in specific areas.  If you don't know much about a topic start with general information and work towards more specific sources:

E.g. Legal dictionaries > legal encyclopedias > text books > journal articles.

Australia's Legal System

In Australia, there are two parts to the legal system:

  • Legislation (also known as Acts or Statutes) - made by Parliament
  • Common Law (also known as Case Law or Judge-made law):
    • where a judge will interpret the legislation if it is unclear; or
    • if there is no legislation, make a decision based on prior cases (known as precedents).

Legal Encyclopaedias

If you are not sure where to start your research or don't know much about a topic, a legal encyclopaedia can provide a good starting point.

The two encyclopaedias below cover all areas of Australian law and are continuously updated.  They provide a good introduction to legal principles and provide valuable references to relevant cases and legislation.  Use both encyclopaedias, as coverage may differ and sections may be updated at different times.

Tip: Check the currency statement at the top of each paragraph - it may be necessary to find more up to date material if a section is out of date.

Halsbury's Laws of Australia

Depending on what you already know about your topic, you can choose to browse or search.

Browsing

Use the Table of Contents to browse broad subject areas by selecting different volume titles:

E.g. 90 Constitutional Law

Use the plus (+) symbols to view more specific chapters and paragraphs.

Searching

From the Table of Contents page select Search at the top left-hand side of the page or if you are reading an entry select Search Source from the top right-hand side of the page.

Use the Search Terms box to search by topic:

E.g. Search Terms box > type acquisition of property > click Search > view results

Tip: If you're not sure how to enter your search terms, check the Search Tips at the top of the page.

The Laws of Australia

Similar to Halsbury's, you can browse or search this encyclopaedia.

Browsing

Select the broad subject area from the left side:

E.g. 9. Criminal law principles

Use the plus (+) symbols to view more specific chapters or click on the title of a paragraph to read it.

Searching

From the home page of the Encyclopaedia you can search using keywords or if you are reading an entry select New Search from the top of the page.

E.g. Free Text Search box > type "burden of proof" and civil > view results

Tip: Click on the blue Field Name for search tips specific to that field

Legal Dictionaries

Legal dictionaries can help you start your research by providing you with a concise definition of the law. They will also help improve your legal vocabulary. Dictionaries vary in their content - they may:

  • Be subject specific (E.g. business law)
  • Cover one jurisdiction (E.g. Australia)
  • Provide a full definition of a term, including its legal history
  • Simply list the legislative authority (I.e. leading you to legislation or case law where the term has been defined)

Australian Legal Dictionaries

Australian Legal Words and Phrases

This dictionary provides a comprehensive list of words and phrases that have been defined in legislation or judicially considered.

You can browse the Table of Contents for your term or select Search.

E.g. Defined Terms box > type partnership > view results

International Legal Dictionaries