This guide provides an overview of legislation and case law research in Australia. Jurisdiction is important in legal research. In the legislative context, jurisdiction refers to the parliament or legislature which has created the legislation. In the context of case law research, jurisdiction refers to the court which heard the matter.
This page includes tips on researching legislation and case law. The other pages in this guide point to resources for finding legislation and case law at a Commonwealth, state and territory level.
Legislative research often involves looking at various types of information such as Acts (often called statues), Bills and explanatory memoranda (sometimes called explanatory notes), statutory rules (also called delegated legislation or regulations), parliamentary debates, and parliamentary committee reports.
Following are some tips to guide you in the legislative research process:
There are three types of Acts used in legislative research: up-to-date Acts, point in time Acts and Acts as made:
Up to date Act (complilation, including all amendments to date)
When you are looking for up to date Acts, you may come across the following terms:
Point in time Act
Point in time legislative research means establishing the content of an Act at a specific point in time. Point in time Act is used interchangeably with the term historical Act.
Acts as made
Acts as passed by parliament, also referred to as sessional Acts or Acts as passed.
This guide is divided by jurisdiction and the legislation page of each tab includes information about the legislation making process. Broadly speaking, an Act starts as a Bill which is presented and debated in parliament. Once the Bill has passed all three readings in each house and it has received royal assent by the Governor-General or the State Governor it becomes an Act. The assent is published by proclamation in the Government Gazette which stipulates the date the Act commences. It is important to note that an Act or different sections of an Act can commence at future dates and at different times. If you are unsure of whether an Act or sections of an Act have come into operation check legislation commencement tables or annotated statutes.
Acts are commonly referred to as statutes, legislation or law. There are two types of Acts:
Official sources for legislation are those published by government printers. It is important to use these sources over free sites such as AustLII. Quick tools for legislative research include:
The benefit of these sources is that they link to government websites which are often the official source for legislation. The exception to this is jurisdictions where print legislation is the official version. See the legislation tab under each jurisdiction page for more information.
Legislation is dynamic and it is important to know how your legislation, and if relevant, provisions have changed over the years by tracking the legislative history. It is also important to check the currency of the legislation you are using, specifically whether the Act or provisions have been incorporated and come into effect.
Tracking legislative history
Tracking legislation commencement
Tracking potential legislative changes
Materials such as bills, explanatory memoranda, parliamentary papers and government reports are a great way of understanding the background to a particular legislative area. This material is referred to as extrinsic material.
Secondary sources such as encyclopaedias, text books and journal articles are a good starting point to get an overview of legislation, particularly if you are not sure what legislation governs a particular area.
Annotated Acts are extremely useful tools a) for understanding and interpreting an Act or a specific section of an Act and b) to trace the history of an Act. Annotated Acts often include:
The Law Library subscribes to Federal, Victorian and New South Wales statute annotations on Lexis Advance Pacific. Find these via the Publications list on Lexis Advance Pacific.
Case law is law developed by judges in courts. Case law research involves reading legal judgments - understanding the reasons behind a judgment and how the law has been interpreted by the judge.
Following are some tips for undertaking case law research.
A case citation is the system used to identify the components of a case. Citations vary depending on whether the case is reported or unreported. Case citations are a convenient, standard way of abbreviating the name and publication details of a case.
Citation format for a reported case is generally:
| Party Names ||(Year)|| Volume||Publication Abbreviation||Starting Page|
Eg. R v Hughes (2000) 202 CLR 535
If a volume number does not assist you to find the case (because volume numbers start from 1 each year, or are not used at all), then the year of the volume is used and placed in square brackets, Eg. Federal Commissioner of Taxation v Vogt  1 NSWLR 194
The standard way of referring to unreported Australian cases is generally:
| Party Names ||[Year]||Unique Court Identifier||Judgment Number||(Unreported,|Judge(s),|Date of judgment)||Pinpoint
For other unreported judgments, including unreported judgments from overseas, use:
| Party Names || (Unreported,||Court,||Judge(s),||Date of judgment)||Pinpoint
See Australian Guide to Legal Citation, 3rd edition (AGLC 3) for more information.
Reported cases are those judgments published in law reports. Cases which deal with significant points of law or establish precedents are generally included in law reports. Various reports series are published in databases Lexis Advance Pacific, Westlaw AU and CCH.
Unreported cases are those cases not considered to establish an important precedent, or may be too recent, to be reported in a reports series. Unreported Judgments are in Lexis Advance Pacific, AustLII, BarNet Jade, Foolkit for Lawyers and the judgment databases on the individual court websites (see the cases tab under each jurisdiction for more information).
In each Australian jurisdiction there is one series of law reports designated as authorised. If a decision appears in an authorised report series, this is the version that must be cited in student essays and scholarly publications - see Rule 2.3.1 in AGLC3.
In all Australian courts, there is a convention that the authorised report of a judgment be cited and handed up in court in preference to other versions. In a number of jurisdictions, this convention has been formalised by Practice Direction.
Please see our Authorised Reports Research Guide to find:
A case citator is an index to case law allowing users to search across jurisdictions for cases using a range of fields.
Case citators provide information about a case such as where the case is cited, a summary of the case, the cases an legislation that were considered in a case, how the case has been treated in subsequent cases and in journal articles. A case citator will link you to the full text of a case is published in a law report series that the publisher has access to. If there is no link to the case search the catalogue for the law report series to get access to the full text.
Abbreviations are used regularly in legal publishing. If you are unsure what an law report (or journal) abbreviation stands for you a tool such as the Cardiff Index to Legal Abbreviations. You can search by abbreviation and the results will give you a listing of all the legal publications that use that abbreviation.
The Law Library website's Legal Abbreviations page lists various tools to help you in interpreting legal abbreviations.