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Australian Law: free online resources

Finding Case Law

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. For tips about locating cases relevant to a case, section of legislation, or commentary on a case, see the Case citators and subsequent consideration of a case - 'noting up' section of this page.

Free case law is available on a range of platforms:

  • AustLII - contains a large collections of cases from all major courts and tribunals from the Federal and State jurisdictions. Coverage dates back to the 1830s to current. The coverage may vary depending on the court and jurisdiction of interest.
  • Jade Barnet - contains cases from all major courts from the Federal and State jurisdictions. Coverage varies depending on the jurisdiction. Extensive coverage starts from 1999.
  • Court Websites - visit the court website for recent judgments and daily hearing list to determine the matters being heard in the court each day.
  • Commonwealth Courts Portal - provides information on cases initiated in the Federal Court of Australia, including court events and orders, documents filed and the parties in the matter.
  • Lawyers Foolkit - provides general information for legal practitioners and the public about courts, the legal system and court lists and sittings

For further information about which case to use, see the Types of Case Law section below.

Understanding Case citation formats

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.

Reported cases

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. As these are published series', they are often not freely available. Hardcopy or online access may be available at the State Library of Victoria.

Citation format for a reported case is generally: 

| Party Names ||(Year)|| Volume||Publication Abbreviation||Starting Page|

Eg. R v Hughes (2000) 202 CLR 535, 22

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 [1975] 1 NSWLR 194

Unreported cases

Unreported cases are those cases not considered to establish an important precedent, or may be too recent, to be reported in a reports series. Australian unreported cases are made available on court websites, AustLII and Jade Barnet.

The standard way of referring to unreported Australian cases is generally: 

| Party Names ||[Year]||Unique Court Identifier||Judgment Number||(Date of judgment)||[Pinpoint]

Eg. Quarmby v Keating [2009] TASSC 80 (9 September 2009) [11]

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.

Case citators and subsequent consideration of a case - 'noting up'

Subsequent consideration of and in Australian cases

AustLII Noteup - when you have located the case you are looking for, the Noteup feature searches for all materials which refer to the current case. This will display all other cases which refer to this case and pinpoints to the relevant paragraphs in the citing cases.

Barnet Jade's Case Trace - a citator feature that appears on the right of the page of every case in JADE  - it includes links to the full text of cases your case has cited and to cases which have cited your case - and pinpoints the relevant paragraph in the citing cases.

Subsequent consideration of Australian cases in worldwide cases

LawCite - is an automatically generated global case citator, which gathers information from all the Legal Information Institutes (LIIs) worldwide, so that you see where your case is cited in cases in other jurisdictions. It also lists free and subscription journal articles and law reform reports which discuss your case, and legislation which is cited in your case. Cases found in AustLII all have LawCite link beside the case which links straight to the LawCite record.

Types of Case Law

Authorised reports

Authorised reports are published law report series that have been given official approval by the judiciary. 
Each jurisdiction in Australia has one designated authorised report. For example, the Commonwealth Law Reports (CLRs) are the authorised report series for the High Court of Australia. For every case reported/published in the authorised law report series, a presiding judge or the judge’s associate reviews the judgment prior to publication (making them most authoritative).

Unauthorised reports

Unauthorised reports are also published reports of court decisions. However, unauthorised reports have not been given official approval by the judiciary (unlike the authorised reports).
Unauthorised reports can be jurisdiction, or subject based. For example, the Australian Law Reports, or the Torts Law Reports.

Unreported judgments/medium neutral citations

Unreported judgments are decisions of courts that have not been published in a law report series. Unreported judgments are cited using their medium neutral citation. Each case has a medium neutral citation. It is the citation that is allocated to the case by the court that it was heard in. 
In comparison to unreported judgments, both authorised and unauthorised reports are reported judgments.

Parallel citations

Cases may appear in several series depending on editorial interest and assessment of the importance of the case.  For example, High Court decisions are reported in the Commonwealth Law Reports (CLR), Australian Law Reports (ALR) and Australian Law Journal Reports (ALJR).
If you see a citation with references to multiple law reports, this is known as a parallel citation, for example: Rogers v Whitaker (1992) 175 CLR 479; (1992) 109 ALR 625; (1992) 67 ALJR 47; (1992) AustTorts Reports 81-189.
In Australian legal writing, you are not required to cite all parallel citations. Instead you should cite to the authorised report of a case where available.

Legal/court abbreviations

You may come across citations for cases that appear unfamiliar to you, such as Dowsing v Goodwin (1998) 27 MVR 43. To figure out which report series the case appeared in, you can use the following legal abbreviation tools to find out the name of the report series: