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.
Where available, use the authorised reports series; these are officially approved versions.
High Court of Australia
Law Report: Commonwealth Law Reports
Federal Court of Australia
Law Report: Federal Court Reports
Supreme Court of New South Wales
Law Report: New South Wales Law Reports
Supreme Court of the Northern Territory
Law Report: Northern Territory Law Reports
Supreme Court of Queensland
Law Report: Queensland Law Reports
Abbreviation: Qd R
Supreme Court of South Australia
Law Report: South Australian State Reports
Supreme Court of Tasmania
Law Report: Tasmanian Reports
Abbreviation: Tas R
Supreme Court of Victoria
Law Report: Victorian Reports
Supreme Court of Western Australia
Law Report: Western Australian Reports
England and Wales
Law Report: The Law Reports - published by the Incorporated Council of Law Reporting for England and Wales (ICLR)
Abbreviation: AC, Ch, KB, QB etc.
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:
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.
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,  Aust Torts Reports 81-810,  HCA 62,  ALMD 1241,  ALMD 1449,  ALMD 1445,  ALMD 1446
The judgment has been reported in many law reports. Where available, use the authorised reports series; these are officially approved versions.
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 the popular name and include the word case.
3. Enter your search terms
woollen underpants case
4. Click on Search
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.
|Court / Jurisdiction||Law Report||Database|
|High Court of Australia||Commonwealth Law Reports (CLR)||Westlaw Australia|
|Federal court of Australia||Federal Court Reports (FCR)||Westlaw Australia|
|Supreme Court of New South Wales||New South Wales Law Reports (NSWLR)||CaseBase|
|Supreme Court of the Northern Territory||Northern Territory Law Reports (NTLR)||Westlaw Australia|
|Supreme court of Queensland||Queensland Reports (Qd R)||CaseBase|
|Supreme Court of South Australia||South Australian State Reports (SASR)||Westlaw Australia|
|Supreme Court of Tasmania||Tasmanian Reports (Tas R)||Westlaw Australia|
|Supreme Court of Victoria||Victorian Reports (VR)||CaseBase|
|Supreme Court of Western Australia||Western Australian Reports (WAR)||Westlaw Australia|
|Australia||Unreported||CaseBase; Westlaw Australia|
|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|
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 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:
Once the record of a case is found, CaseBase provides the researcher with information about the case including:
To locate a case by its citation
1. 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
2. Click on search
To locate cases that consider a piece of legislation
1. In the Legislation Title field enter the name of the Act or Regulation.
2. In the Provision field enter the section number.
3. Click on Search
Example: Act /Regulation: Wrongs Act 1958 Vic Provision: 26
To locate cases that consider a word or phrase
1. Enter the word or phrase into the Words & Phrases Judicially Considered field. Always use quotation marks when searching for a phrase. This helps to ensure that only records containing that exact phrase will be retrieved
2. Click on Search
For example, in the Words and Phrases Judicially Considered field enter "reasonable care"
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. Enter the search terms into the Catchwords field
2. 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,
The phrase “wrongful life”
Catchwords: negligen! AND "wrongful life"
See CaseBase Tutorial for more information.
Westlaw Australia has extensive coverage of the federal jurisdiction and all Australian states and territories, extending as far back as 1825 for significant reported cases.
Like CaseBase it allows the researcher to locate cases in a number of ways including by:
Once the record of a case is located Westlaw provides the researcher with information about the case including:
From the Westlaw Australia Homepage
To locate a case by name
1. Enter the party names into the main search box on the homepage. As you start typing Westlaw will display cases that match your search terms. It isn’t necessary to include v or versus or AND. For example, to locate Vairy v Wyong Shire Council (2005) 223 CLR 422 you need only enter vairy wyong
2. Select the case you want from the matches displayed to go directly to the record for the case.
To locate a case by citation
1. Enter the citation, excluding brackets and non-essential information into the search box. For example, to locate Vairy v Wyong Shire Council (2005) 223 CLR 422 you need only enter 223 clr 422
2.Select the case you want from the matches displayed to go directly to the record for the case.
Alternatively you can search the case specific part of Westlaw. Locate this section from the homepage by scrolling down and then clicking Cases.
You can then search for keywords just in cases, browse recent cases, browse by 'Key number' or select Advanced to get to the advanced search form.
Once you have selected the Advanced Search option you can then:
Locate a case by name
1. Scroll to the field Case Title/Party Name.
2. Enter the name. It is good practice to use the Boolean operator AND between each name. For example, to locate Vairy v Wyong Shire Council (2005) 223 CLR 422 you need only enter vairy AND wyong
3.Click Search or Enter
Locate cases by citation
1. Scroll to the field citation
2. Enter the citation, excluding brackets and non-essential information into the Citation search box. Use double quote marks to look for the exact citation. For example, to locate Vairy v Wyong Shire Council (2005) 223 CLR 422 you would enter “223 clr 422" (using double quotes").
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 or Enter.
Example: Legislation Cited (title): 'Migration Act 1958" Legislation Cited (Provision): 501
Locate cases by subject
There are two ways to locate cases by subject. You can either search or browse.
1. Enter a search statement into the Synopsis/Digest or Key Number/Classification field to search for content by legal classification. 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 Search or Enter.
To browse by Key Number System
You can browse cases by subject area by using the Key Number Classification system. Browsing in this way is especially useful when you are unsure of what words to use in a search.
1. From the homepage or the Cases page select the option Key Numbers.
2. Select the topic or subject area of interest.
3. Continue to select sub categories to navigate to cases related to the topic you are interested in.
An efficient search for UK case law requires the use of both the ICLR and WestlawUK databases. Begin by searching the ICLR database. Doing so will ensure that you locate any authorised versions of the case law being sought.
The case law collections of the three databases are unique. Case law that is available in the ICLR database will not be available in the WestlawUK database and vice versa. However, a search of WestlawUK will provide additional information about cases whether or not they are available on that database.
The Incorporated Council of Law Reporting for England and Wales (ICLR) has published the official, authorised law reports for the UK since 1865. Therefore, the ICLR database is usually the first place you should look to find UK cases.
To search for a case select Full Search.
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.
On the search results page, click on the citation of the case to display the full-text of the decision and citator information.
The authorised reports are known collectively as the Law Reports. However, this name includes 3 different series: The First series (1865-1875), Second series (1875-1890) & Third series (1891-present day), and each of these series consists of a range of different titles.
When citing a UK case, the Law Reports version should be cited where available. See AGLC4 pages 251-2, Rule 24.1.2 for more information and a list of abbreviations for the different Law Reports titles.
ICLR also publish a range of other reports. However, the Law Reports are the official, authorised reports for the UK and should be cited in preference to any other.
The Law Reports published by ICLR began in 1865 and continue to the present day.
However, prior to 1865 cases were reported by private court reporters and were published under the name of the reporter. These reports are known as ‘nominate reports’.
Many of these nominate reports have been compiled and reprinted. The first reprint is called the Revised Reports (RR) and the subsequent reprint is called the English Reports (ER). The English Reports are the preferred, and more comprehensive reprint. You will almost always find the pre-1865 case that you are looking for in the English Reports.
When citing nominate reports, you should also include a parallel citation to one of these reprints.
Lawson v Widdrington (1661) 1 Lev 85; 83 ER 310.
See AGLC4 page 253 Rule 24.1.3 for more information and examples.
Another useful database when researching UK cases is Westlaw UK. Although the authorised Law Reports are available via the ICLR database, Westlaw UK is also useful for finding information about the cases in the ICLR Law Reports, including a Digest.
Westlaw UK also includes the English Reports. Therefore, if you are looking for a case pre 1865 you can check Westlaw UK for the reprint of the case in the English Reports.
Furthermore, Lexis Advanced includes the All England Reports (All ER). If you are looking for a current case that is not available via ICLR, you can use Lexis Advanced to see if the case has been report in the All England Reports.
REPORTED (LAW REPORT)
The details required in order are: Case Name (in italics); Year (in round brackets); Volume Number; Law Report Series (abbreviation); Starting Page Number; Pinpoint page number where appropriate (used when referring to a specific point in the judgment); Name of Judge/s (only used where appropriate).
Example: Kartinyeri v Commonwealth (1998) 195 CLR 337, 383 (Gummow and Hayne JJ).
|FOOTNOTE CITATION EXAMPLE||BIBLIOGRAPHY/REFERENCE LIST EXAMPLE|
Reported Law Report
26 Chamberlain v The Queen [No 2] (1984) 153 CLR 521, 529.
27 Commonwealth v Tasmania (1983) 158 CLR 521 ('Tasmanian Dam Case').
28 Dale v Scott; Ex parte Dale  1 Qd R 406, 408.
29 DPP (Vic) v Finn (2008) 186 A Crim R 235.
30 Momentum Productions Pty Ltd v Lewarne (2009) 254 ALR 223.
31 R v Reid  VR 430, 433-4.
Case name should NOT be included in a footnote citation if it appears in the sentence accompanying the footnote. For example -
Chamberlain v The Queen [No 2] (1984) 153 CLR 521
Commonwealth v Tasmania (1983) 158 CLR 1
Dale v Scott; Ex parte Dale  1 Qd R 406
DPP (Vic) v Finn (2008) 186 A Crim R 235
Momentum Productions Pty Ltd v Lewarne (2009) 254 ALR 223
R v Reid  VR 430
33 R v De Gruchy  VSCA 10, .
Murray v The Queen  HCA 26
R v De Gruchy  VSCA 10
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  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  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  NSWSC 107
This citation is 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 assigned by the Court.
|FOOTNOTE CITATION EXAMPLE||BIBLIOGRAPHY REFERENCE LIST EXAMPLE|
1865 - Present
with Parallel Citation
34 Lawson v Widdrington (1661) 1 Lev 85; 83 ER 310.
Lawson v Widdrington (1661) 1 Lev 85; 83 ER 310