Bachelor of Laws: Dictionaries & Encyclopaedias

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

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 online.

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 supported by references to case law, legislation and other sources.  This means that legal encyclopedias not only provide a 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 Lexis+) and Laws of Australia (available via Westlaw Australia).  The two encyclopedias compete directly against each other.  For the best results it is important to check both. 

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Encyclopaedic Australian Legal Dictionary

The Encyclopaedic Australian Legal Dictionary - Is a leading Australian legal dictionary and is available online via Lexis+.

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. 

You can find information in various ways:

  • Navigate using the table of contents
  • Search for terms in the table of contents
  • Search for terms in the whole document

  • Search for exact phrases using quotation marks. For example, "cause of death".  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.


As well as providing a clear and concise definition, the Encyclopaedic Australian Legal Dictionary will also provide references to relevant primary sources such as cases and Legislation.

More Legal Dictionaries

English Language Dictionaries

To check the spelling or the ordinary English meaning of a word Macquarie or Oxford dictionaries should be used.

The  Oxford Dictionary of English (3rd ed) is available via the Oxford Reference database. 


Halsbury's Laws of Australia

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.

Browsing Halsbyry'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. The table of contents is displayed on the left hand side of the screen.
2. Browse the listing but be aware that this is a table of contents, not an index. It is the equivalent of flipping through pages.
2. Click on the + symbol to navigate to more specific information.
2. You can also search within the table of contents, this will look for your search terms but only in the table of contents, not in the full text.

Browsing the consolidated Index
1. Scroll down the table of contents to the option Consolidated Index
2. 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)

You 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. 

Searching Laws of Australia
Enter keywords or phrases into the main search box. To limit your search to a specific 'title' in Laws of Australia select that 'title', such as Administrative Law. Then when you enter your keywords in the main search box it will only search for those terms in the selected area. 

When searching for a phrase use quotation marks ie "duty of care"

When not sure of the exact order of words then combine your keywords with the boolean operator AND ie negligence AND torts

When searching for words or phrases near each other use the proximity operator ie /p to search for words in the same paragraph or /10 to search for words within 10 words of each other.

Example: "standard of care" /10 health

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

Alternatively you can search within the table of content by selecting Search TOC near the top right of the screen.

You can also use the advanced search option. Click the word Advanced at the end of the main search box. This will take you to the Advanced search screen, with different search fields. You can use the fields to focus your search. For example you can specifically search for your term(s) in the field Legal Principle.

To browse Laws of Australia
1. Click the + sign next to a 'title' heading to view the sub headings/chapters under it. You can continue to expand the headings by clicking more + signs. 
2. To read a section click on the hyperlink text.

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 Encyclopedia / Loose Leaf Service  - AGLC4 Rule 7.7 & 7.8

Legal Encyclopedia - Online

The details required in order are: - Publisher, Title of Encyclopedia (in italics); online and date of retrieval (in parentheses); Title Number, Name of Title, Chapter Number Name of Chapter (in single quotation marks); Pinpoint (to paragraph number in square brackets) .


Example image how to footnote a legal encyclopedia in AGLC4.

Example: LexisNexis, Halsbury's Laws of Australia (online at 20 October 2023) 250 Legal Practitioners, '4 Lawyers' Duty to the Court'  [250-5000].

Video Guide

Legal Encyclopedia (Online) 23 Westlaw AULaws of Australia (online at 21 November  2018) 33 Torts, '33.2 Negligence' [33.2.210]. Westlaw AULaws of Australia (online at 21 November  2018) 33 Torts, '33.2 Negligence'

Legal Encyclopedia (Online)

24 LexisNexis, Halsbury's Law of Australia (online at 17 June 2021) 205 Family Law, '2 Marriage' [205-425].

LexisNexis, Halsbury's Law of Australia (online at 17 June 2021) 205 Family Law, '2 Marriage'



Looseleaf Service - Online

The details required in order are: Publisher; Title (in italics); online at Date of Retrieval (in parentheses); Pinpoint (to paragraph in square brackets].

Video Guide



25 Westlaw AU, Indictable Offences in Victoria (online at 10 November 2018) [23.90].                       Westlaw AU, Indictable Offences in Victoria (online at 10 November 2018) 

Looseleaf Service

26 LexisNexis, Australian Encyclopaedia of Forms and Precedents (online at 17 June 2021) [25.15].

LexisNexis, Australian Encyclopaedia of Forms and Precedents (online at 17 June 2021)


27 CCH Australia, Australian Contract Law Commentary (online at 2 January 2024) 25-050.                     CCH Australia, Australian Contract Law Commentary (online at 2 January 2024)


 Tip: Where an author of a loose leaf service is clearly identified, include the authors name before the publisher (separated by a comma).