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Introduction to Case Law

This guide was updated and revised on 17 April 2020. The old guide will remain accessible for a short time, which you can find here.

Introduction to Caselaw

What is a law report?

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Law reports, also known as case reporters or report series, are published compilations of cases. Like academic journals or magazines, they are published sequentially by year.

A law report may collect cases from a particular jurisdiction (eg Queensland, Northern Territory), a particular court (eg the Commonwealth Law Reports for the High Court of Australia) or on a particular topic (eg family law, criminal law).

Before the internet made unreported cases easy to find and access, law report series were the main way lawyers could access the full text of cases.

In addition to providing the full text of a case, publishers will add useful information such as:

  • a summary of the facts in the case
  • a summary of the arguments made by counsel
  • a summary of the decision in each judgment
  • topic headings or keywords
  • lists of cases and legislation discussed in the case

How cases are published

Unreported cases Reported cases Authorised reported cases Sorry, your browser does not support inline SVG.

Important! A single case may be published in some or all of these ways. This means a single case can have multiple citations which are known as parallel citations. See Which version to cite? for more info on referencing.

Unreported cases
  • When the judge hands down their written decision, a copy is lodged with the court's registry or library.
  • A copy of this decision may be put on the website of the court or court library, or the court may give the text directly to AustLII for publication there.
  • There are two ways to cite an unreported case: medium neutral citation, or non-medium neutral
Reported cases
  • Commercial publishers will review the unreported judgments coming from the courts and select the ones that are the most important for re-publishing in their case reporter series.
  • The text of the decision is the same, but the publisher adds their own summary, topic headings, formatting etc.
  • There are two types of citation for reported cases, one for reporters published by volume, one for series published by year
Authorised reported cases
  • In each jurisdiction, one reporter series is designated the authorised series.
  • After the publisher adds their summary, topic headings etc, the full text is sent back to the judge to approve as an accurate copy of their decision.

Would you like to know more about the history of law reporting, authoritative law reports and precedent?

Visit the Incorporated Council of Law Reporting for the State of Queensland (ICLRQ) http://www.queenslandreports.com.au/authorised

Two excellent videos ...

Donoghue v. Stevenson: The History of Law Reporting

A History of the ICLR