Bachelor of Laws: Dictionaries & Encyclopaedias

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

Hard-copy Legal Dictionaries

Using Legal Encyclopaedias

Things to keep in mind when using legal encyclopedias:

  • Always check the currency of the text.  Both encyclopedias display the date that the text was last updated at the top each paragraph.  Keeping legal encyclopedias up to date is a major task.  Some parts will be up to date while others may be out of date and no-longer useful.  It's another reason to look at both encyclopedias as one may be more up to date that the other.
  • The information that you are looking for may be located in more than one place within the encyclopedia.  Make use of the table of contents, the index in Halsbury's and followup any cross references. 
  • Not all the the primary materials (case law and legislation) will be linked to in the encyclopedia.  There are various reasons for this.  The main thing to remember is that almost all these materials will be available on-line, even if they aren't linked to, so check the other sections of this guide or ask the Law Library for assistance in locating these items.

Legal Dictionaries and Encyclopaedias

Legal dictionaries provide definitions of legal terms and concepts and will often refer to relevant case law and legislation.  This makes them a great place to begin research. The Library has a variety of legal dictionaries both in print and hardcopy.

To browse the collection of Australian legal dictionaries available in the Library search Law -- Australia -- Dictionaries in the subject field.

Legal encyclopedias are large publications that aim to provide an overview of all aspects of Australian Law.  The text is heavily footnoted.  Most statements made in the text are support by references to case law, legislation and other sources.  This means that legal encyclopedias not only provide summary of Australian law but they also identify the relevant primary sources of law.

There are two legal encyclopedias.  Halsbury's Laws of Australia (available on LexisNexisAU) and Laws of Australia (available via WestlawAU).  The two encyclopedias compete directly against each other.  For the best results it is important to check both. 

Encyclopaedic Australian Legal Dictionary

The Encyclopaedic Australian Legal Dictionary - Is a leading Australian legal dictionary that is available online via LexisNexisAU

Even when you think you know the meaning of a word it is still a good idea to refer to a legal dictionary.  Doing so will help to ensure that you have a clearer understanding of the word.  This is especially important when completing an assessment task. 

Things to keep in mind when using the Encyclopaedic Australian Legal Dictionary online:

  • Use the defined terms field when search for definitions.
    Example:  Defined Term: causation

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  • When searching for a definition its search engine will default to a phrase.  If unsure of the exact phrase then use a proximity operator to connect the words. For example, contributory w/2 negligence will find any records where both terms appear within two words of each other.

Halsbury's Laws of Australia

Halsbury's Laws of Australia 

(Access via VU Library)

 As with many other online resources there are two ways to locate information in Halsbury’s; the user may either search or browse.

Searching Halsbury’s
It is important to keep in mind that Halsbury’s is an extensive work.  In hard-copy it constitutes dozens of volumes, so it is essential to have a clear idea of exactly what it is that you are looking for.  The search screen in Halsbury’s allows users to take a number of different approaches to locating information including searching:

  • Across the entire text or specific parts of the text
  • For references to a specific piece of legislation
  • For references to a case
  • Only the headings of paragraphs

To search the text of Halsbury’s 
When searching the full text it is essential to make use of Boolean and proximity operators.  This helps to ensure the accuracy of the search.
1. Choose the field to search.  The Search Terms box will provide the broadest search because it will search across every field in the database.  The other search boxes conduct a narrower search by limiting the search to particular fields within the database.
2. Enter the search statement and click on Search.

"standard of care" w/s profession!

 

The search shown above uses quotation marks to find the phrase “standard of care” in the same sentence, by using the proximity operator w/s, as words that begin with profession by using the wildcard operator !.  E.g. profession, professions, professional.

To browse Halsbury’s 
There are two ways to browse.  The first is to browse using the table of contents.  This is equivalent to flipping through the pages of the hard-copy version.  The second is to use the consolidated index.  This is especially useful for when a subject may be dealt with in more than one place within the encyclopedia.

Browsing the table of contents
1. On the left hand side of the Halsbury’s search screen, click on Browse
2. A table of contents listing of titles will be displayed
3. Browse the listing but be aware that this is a table of contents, not an index.  It is the equivalent to flipping through pages. 

Browsing the consolidated Index
1. On the left hand side of the Halsbury’s search screen, click on Browse
2. Choose Index and Tables from the View drop-down menu at the top of the screen
3. Click on the + symbol next to Consolidated Index
4. Browse the index.  This is the equivalent of using an index in a hard-copy publication and provides all the benefits of editorial input such as grouped sub-headings and see also references.

Laws of Australia

Laws of Australia

(Access via VU Library)

Like Halsbury’s, the user may either search or browse the contents of Laws of Australia.  Before searching any database, especially a full text database like Laws of Australia, it is essential to have a clear idea of what it is that you are looking for.  This will help you to decide whether you need to search or browse.

The search screen in Laws of Australia allows the user to take a number of different approaches to locating information, including searching:

  • Across the entire text or specific parts of the text
  • For references to a specific piece of legislation
  • For references to a case
  • Only the headings of paragraphs.  Each paragraph in Laws of Australia has a heading that contains a proposition or legal principle.

To search for text in Laws of Australia
1. The Free Text search box will provide the broadest search by searching across every field in the database.  To conduct a narrower search us the other fields to limit the search.
2. Enter the search terms
3. Click on Search

Example: "standard of care" /10 health

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The above search will locate any records where the phrase standard of care is within 10 words or the word health.

To browse Laws of Australia
1. Click on the table of contents subject headings on the left of the screen
2. The titles and subjects of matching paragraphs will be displayed on the right of the screen
3. If unsure of where to begin browsing, try a keyword search of the table of contents.  Enter a word or phrase in the search box above the table of contents and click on Find.  As this is a search of subject headings only, it’s best to keep the search statement simple and fairly board.

Looseleaf Services and Legal Encyclopedias

A legal encyclopedia citation consists of up to 8 elements, when the online version is used, and follows the order of Publisher, Title of Encyclopedia, Full Date of when Accessed, Title Number & Name, Chapter Number & Name and a pinpoint paragraph number.

The volume number should not be used when the online version of the looseleaf or encyclopedia has been used.

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Example: LexisNexis, Halsbury's Laws of Australia (at 16 January 2012) 110 Contract, '3 Implied terms' [110-2100].

  FOOTNOTE CITATION EXAMPLE BIBLIOGRAPHY/REFERENCE LIST EXAMPLE
Legal encyclopaedias 23 LexisNexis, Halsbury's Laws of Australia (at 28 April
2007) 85 Conflict of Laws, '1 General' [84-145].

24 Lawbook, The Laws of Australia (at 12 May 2007) 15
Equity, '15.2 Fiduciaries' [37]-[39].
LexisNexis, Halsbury's Laws of Australia (at 28 April
2007) 85 Conflict of Laws, '1 General' 

Lawbook, The Laws of Australia (at 12 May 2007)
15 Equity, '15.2 Fiduciaries'
Miscellaneous

25 Neil Williams, Civil Procedure Victoria (at I69.01.135)
5962.

(I69.01.135 refers to Chapter 1, Order 69, Rule 1, annotation number 135 to Rule 1)

Williams, Neil, Civil Procedure Victoria (at I69.01.135) 5962