Bachelor of Laws: Case Law

A comprehensive guide to legal research created by the VU Law Library

5 Tips for Case Law Research

1.  Law loves abbreviations.  Use the Cardiff Index to Legal Abbreviations to look them up.

2.  Correct citation matters.  Use the AGLC guide.

3.  Use a case citator.  CaseBase and FirstPoint will give you useful and accurate information.

4.  Use Westlaw Next to locate US cases.  Use ICLR to locate UK cases.

5.  Ask the Law Library if you need any help.

 

Authorised Reports

Where available, use the authorised reports series; these are officially approved versions.

High Court of Australia
Law Report: Commonwealth Law Reports
Abbreviation: CLR

Federal Court of Australia
Law Report: Federal Court Reports
Abbreviation: FCR

Supreme Court of New South Wales
Law Report: New South Wales Law Reports
Abbreviation: NSWLR

Supreme Court of the Northern Territory
Law Report: Northern Territory Law Reports
Abbreviation: NTLR

Supreme Court of Queensland
Law Report: Queensland Law Reports
Abbreviation: Qd R

Supreme Court of South Australia
Law Report: South Australian State Reports
Abbreviation: SASR

Supreme Court of Tasmania
Law Report: Tasmanian Reports
Abbreviation: Tas R

Supreme Court of Victoria
Law Report: Victorian Reports
Abbreviation: VR

Supreme Court of Western Australia
Law Report: Western Australian Reports
Abbreviation: WAR

Abbreviations

Abbreviations are used to identify the law report series in which a judgment has been published.  In the case of unreported judgments an abbreviation for the court is used.
Some useful tools for looking up abbreviations are:

Unreported Judgments

An unreported judgment is a judgment that has not been published (reported) in a law report.  All judgments are unreported to begin with as it takes time for them to be published.  While some judgments will be published in many different law reports, most will never be published and will remain unreported.

Alternative or Parallel Citations

Often an important case may be reported (published) in more than one series of law reports. For example:

Vairy v Wyong Shire Council (2005) 223 CLR 422 , 80 ALJR 1 , 142 LGERA 387 , 221 ALR 711, [2005] Aust Torts Reports 81-810, [2005] HCA 62, [2006] ALMD 1241, [2006] ALMD 1449, [2006] ALMD 1445, [2006] ALMD 1446

 

The judgment has been reported in many law reports. Where available, use the authorised reports series; these are officially approved versions.

Popular Case Names

Sometimes important or high profile cases, especially those that receive media attention, come to be known by a popular name.  Often the name has nothing to do with the actual party names.  For example, that famous case Donoghue and Stevenson is more popularly known as the ‘Snail in the Bottle Case’. Its ability to locate cases by popular name is a great strength of CaseBase.


1. Select CaseBase Cases from the Sources drop-down menu


2. In the Search Terms box at the top of the screen enter POPULAR-NAME.  This will limit the search to just the field of the database where the popular names are stored.


3. Enter your search terms within round brackets.  Use the Boolean operator AND between each word.

POPULAR-NAME(snail AND bottle)


4. Click on Search

Supreme Court of Victoria - Court of Appeal. Latest Decisions

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Introduction

Case law is made up of the decisions of a court consisting of a single judge or a number of judges.  Significant cases may be published in a law report series and are known as reported judgments. Most law report series are available online and in hard-copy. Those judgments which do not get reported (published) are known as unreported judgments.

Where to Find Case Law

Case Law Quick-Find
Court / Jurisdiction Law Report Database
High Court of Australia Commonwealth Law Reports (CLR) FirstPoint
Federal court of Australia Federal Court Reports (FCR)  FirstPoint
Supreme Court of New South Wales New South Wales Law Reports (NSWLR) CaseBase
Supreme Court of the Northern Territory  Northern Territory Law Reports (NTLR)  FirstPoint
Supreme court of Queensland  Queensland Reports (Qd R) CaseBase
Supreme Court of South Australia South Australian State Reports (SASR)  FirstPoint
Supreme Court of Tasmania  Tasmanian Reports (Tas R) FirstPoint
Supreme Court of Victoria  Victorian Reports (VR) CaseBase
Supreme Court of Western Australia Western Australian Reports (WAR) FirstPoint
England and Wales Law Reports (AC, Ch App, Ch D, Eq, Ex, KB, PC, QB) ICLR Online
England and Wales English Reports (ER) Westlaw UK
United States of America Various Westlaw US

 

Locating Case Law Using a Case Citator

A case citator is a tool that allows users to locate case law and useful information about that case law.  It provides an index to and summary of case law.  It allows its user to search across jurisdictions and time to locate cases.

Of course, it is possible to search case law directly without using a case citator. Case law is available online in full-text in various databases.  The problem for the researcher is that the structure of these databases, their coverage and the layout of the judgments themselves varies.  This makes searching difficult, time consuming and adds greatly to the risk of not finding the judgments being sought.

Case citators solve the problem of having to search multiple databases containing judgments in inconsistent formats.  They do this by providing the researcher with a single database that contains consistently structured and formatted descriptions of judgments. 

Although the case citator databases do not contain the full-text of judgments they do provide links to where they are available online or, at the very least, a citation that would allow the researcher to locate the judgment in hard-copy.

In Australia there are two leading commercially produced case citators and one that is freely available from Austlii.  All have their own strengths and subtle differences. 

CaseBase

CaseBase is an Australian case citator.  Produced by LexisNexis and available online to subscribers, it is one of the most popular legal databases in Australia.  It offers extensive coverage of reported and unreported decisions in the federal jurisdiction as well as all Australian states and territories.  For the researcher, CaseBase offers two great benefits; it allows cases to be located relatively easily and provides useful information about cases.

CaseBase allows the researcher to locate cases in a number of ways including by:

  • Name
  • Citation
  • Subject
  • Jurisdiction
  • Court
  • Judge

Once the record of a case is found, CaseBase provides the researcher with information about the case including:

  • Citation (often linked to the full-text of the case)
  • A list of any decisions that have subsequently considered the case
  • Details of any journal articles that refer to the case; a great strength of CaseBase
  • A list of cases that were considered by the judge(s)
  • A list of any legislation that was considered in the case
  • A summary of the case or headnotes
  • Any words or phrases that were considered in the case

 

To locate a case by its citation
1. Select CaseBase Cases from the Sources drop-down menu
2. Enter the citation into the Citation field.  Don’t include any brackets.  For example, to locate Sent v Andrews (2002) 6 VR 317 simply enter  6 vr 317
3. Click on search

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To locate cases that consider a piece of legislation
1. Select CaseBase Cases from the Sources drop-down menu.
2. In the Act/Regulation field enter the name of the Act or Regulation. CaseBase will prompt you with possible matches as you type. 
3. In the Provision field enter the section number.  
4. Click on Search

Example: Act /Regulation: Wrongs Act 1958 Vic  Provision: 26

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To locate cases that consider a word or phrase
1. Select CaseBase Cases from the Sources drop-down menu
2. Enter the word or phrase into the Words & Phrases field.  Always use quotation marks when searching for a phrase.  This helps to ensure that only records containing that exact phrase will be retrieved.
3. Click on Search

 For example, in the Words and Phrases field enter "reasonable care"

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To locate cases by subject
It is often easier to use secondary sources, such as books and journal articles, to find case law on a particular subject, especially when looking for the most significant cases.  However, CaseBase may also be used.  The example below shows how a researcher might locate cases where disabled children have sought damages for ‘wrongful life’.


1. Select CaseBase Cases from the drop-down menu
2. Enter the search terms into the Catchwords field
3. In the example below, the search uses the wildcard character ! and will locate any case where the Catchwords field in CaseBase contains:
Any words that begin with negligen  eg. negligent, negligence, 
AND
The phrase “wrongful life” 

Catchwords: negligen! AND "wrongful life"

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 See LexisNexis Quick Guide to CaseBase for more information.

FirstPoint

FirstPoint is an Australian case citator.  Produced by Thomson Reuters it is available online to subscribers.  It evolved from two eminent hardcopy publications, the Australian Case Citator and the Australian Digest.  Its extensive coverage of the federal jurisdiction and all Australian states and territories extends as far back as 1825 for significant reported cases.  FirstPoint offers all the benefits that a case citator brings to case law research.

Like CaseBase it allows the researcher to locate cases in a number of ways including by:

  •  Name
  • Citation
  • Subject
  • Jurisdiction
  • Court
  • Judge

Once the record of a case is located FirstPoint provides the researcher with information about the case including:

  • Citation (often linked to the full-text of the case)
  • A list of any decisions that have subsequently considered the case
  • Details of journal articles that refer to the case
  • A list of cases that were considered by the judge(s)
  • A list of legislation that was considered in the case
  • A summary or digest of the case.  This is a particular strength of FirstPoint.
  • Any words or phrases that were considered in the case

The FirstPoint search screen is very similar to the one in CaseBase and the records themselves are structured in a similar way.  The most significant difference between the two case citators is that FirstPoint allows the researcher to browse for cases as well as search for them.

To locate a case by name
1. Enter the party names into the search box and choose the title option.  It is good practice to use the Boolean operator AND between each name, but it isn’t necessary as FirstPoint uses it by default.   For example, to locate Vairy v Wyong Shire Council (2005) 223 CLR 422 you need only enter Vairy AND Wyong
2. Click on Search

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To locate a case by citation
1. Enter the citation, excluding brackets and non-essential information into the search box and choose the Citation option.  For example, to locate Vairy v Wyong Shire Council (2005) 223 CLR 422 you need only enter 223 clr 422
2. Click on Search

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To locate cases that consider a piece of legislation
1. In the Legislation Cited (Title) field enter the name of the legislation in double quotes. Using quotation marks helps to ensure that the search engine will only look for legislation with that exact name.
2. Enter the section number if required in the Legislation Cited (Provision) field
3. Click Search

Example: Legislation Cited (title):  wrongs act 1958   Legislation Cited (Provision):  23

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To locate cases that consider a word or phrase
1. Enter the word or phrase into the Words and Phrases field.  Always use quotation marks when searching for a phrase.  If unsure of the exact composition of the phrase then enter the main words separated by AND.
2. Click on Search.


To locate cases by subject
There are two ways to locate cases by subject.  The researcher may either search or browse.

To search:
1. Enter a search statement into the Case Summary/Digest field or use the Classification field to search for content by legal classification
 

To browse:
1. Browse the Classification index on the left in the FirstPoint template by clicking on plus symbols next to the headings and subheadings
3. Click on a heading name to view the records of matching cases

Browsing in this way can be particularly useful when you are unsure of what words to use in a search.

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See FirstPoint QuickGuide for more information

ICLR - Incorporated Council of Law Reporting for England and Wales

The ICLR database contains the official reports of the High Court, the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court known as the Law Reports.  The Law Reports includes the Queen’s Bench (QB), Chancery (Ch) and Family (Fam) Divisions of the High Court and Court of Appeal and Appeal Cases (AC).  Coverage begins in 1865.

In addition, the ICLR database contains the Weekly Law Reports (WLR).

View a short video about the ICLR reports.  Learn more in this short video about the role fo a law reporter in the UK.

For cases before 1865, such as those contained in the English Reports, please use Westlaw Next or Hein Online.  

It is possible to search for a case by party name but it is faster and easier to search by citation.  To search by citation, type the year, law report abbreviation and starting page number into the citation search field.  It is not necessary to include brackets around the year.  For example, enter 1932 AC 562 in the citation field to locate Donoghue v Stevenson.

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On the search results page, click on the citation of the case to display the full-text of the decision and citator information.

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Case Law

A case citation has five elements and generally follows the order of - Case name, year, volume number (of law report), abbreviation of the law report and starting page number.

In reported cases the details required are: Case name (italicised or underlined if unable to italicise); year (in round brackets); volume number; abbreviation of the law report; starting page number; pinpoint page number (used when referring to a specific point in the judgment) and name of judge/s (only used where appropriate).

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Example: Kartinyeri (1998) 195 CLR 337, 383 (Gummow and Hayne JJ).

  FOOTNOTE CITATION EXAMPLE BIBLIOGRAPHY/REFERENCE LIST EXAMPLE
Law Reports

27 Chamberlain v The Queen [No 2] (1984) 153 CLR 521.
28 James Hardie & Co Pty Ltd v Hall (1998) 43 NSWLR 554.
29 DPP (WA) v Silbert (2000) 112 A Crim R 88.

30 Commonwealth v Tasmania (1983) 158 CLR 1 ('Tasmanian Dam Case’).

31 Dale v Scott; Ex parte Dale [1985] 1 Qd R 406.
32 Kartinyeri v Commonwealth (1998) 195 CLR 337, 383 (Gummow and Hayne JJ).

Case name should NOT be included in a footnote citation if it appears in the sentence accompanying the footnote. For example:

In your text: In News Corporation v Lenfest Communications Inc, 129 the Court had to consider the effect…


In the footnote: 129 (1996) 21 ACSR 553.

Chamberlain v The Queen [No 2] (1984) 153 CLR 521

Commonwealth v Tasmania (1983) 158 CLR 1 ('Tasmanian Dam Case')     

                                                                                                   

Dale v Scott; Ex parte Dale [1985] 1 Qd R 406

DPP (WA) v Silbert (2000) 112 A Crim R 88

James Hardie & Co Pty Ltd v Hall (1998) 43 NSWLR 554


Kartinyeri v Commonwealth (1998) 195 CLR 337

Unreported Judgments - with a Medium Neutral Citation

16 Murray v The Queen [2002] HCA 26 (26 June 2002) [54].

Murray v The Queen [2002] HCA 26 (26 June 2002)

Unreported Judgments - without a Medium Neutral Citation

34 Ross v Chambers (Unreported, Supreme Court of the Northern Territory, Kriewaldt J, 5 April 1956) 77.

Ross v Chambers (Unreported, Supreme Court of the Northern Territory, Kriewaldt J, 5 April 1956)

 

Todorovic v Waller (1981) 150 CLR 402
   For round bracket ( ) citations, the year is not essential for locating the case.

Macpherson v Kevin J Prunty & Associates [1983] 1 VR 573 
   For square bracket [ ] citations, the year is essential as the report series either does not have a volume number or, as in this instance, begins with volume 1 each year.

Watts v Turpin [2000] Aust Torts Reports 81-544
   Cases published by CCH have a slightly different citation style. Numbers such as 81-544 as shown above are references to paragraphs.  These numbers are displayed at the bottom of the page in CCH reports.  Numbers that do not include a hyphen are references to page numbers.  These numbers are displayed at the top of the page in CCH reports. 

McCracken v Melbourne Storm Rugby League Football Club [2005] NSWSC 107 (22 February 2005)
   This citation is called a medium neutral citation.  This method of citation was developed to accommodate referencing unreported judgments.  In the example above, 2005 is the year that the case was decided, NSWSC stands for the New South Wales Supreme Court; 107 is the number of the case, and 22 February 2005 is the judgement date.