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Introduction to Legal Research

This guide is an introduction to legal research at the University of Melbourne. This guide is intended for law students in the JD, MLM , Breadth programs who are new to legal research. Students in other disciplines who may need to conduct legal research

Common Legislative Documents

Common legislative documents are listed below. Click on the links for more information: 


  • A Bill is a draft of law that Parliament proposes to make
  • If approved and passed by Parliament, the Bill becomes an Act
  • A Bill is divided into clauses (clauses become sections when the Bill becomes an Act)

Explanatory Memoranda (EM)

  • A clause-by-clause description of the Bill and its purpose is called an Explanatory Memorandum or EM
  • EMs are written using plain English (very little legal terminology)
  • EMs only came into regular use in the late 1970s and accompany Bills


  • Principal Act: The major statute covering the law on a particular subject area. Example: Crimes Act 1914 (Cth).
  • Amending Act: An Act that makes changes to another Act, usually a principal Act. The changes may affect a few words, replace entire sections, or delete (“repeal” or “revoke”) a complete Act or Regulation. It is generally easy to recognise amending legislation from the title, which will usually include the word “Amendment” or “Amending”. Example: Crimes Amendment Act 1995 (Cth). Once the amending Act has done its job (commenced), it is no longer in force (repealed) as the intended changes have been added to the principal act.
  • Consolidated Act: A consolidated Act is usually the principal Act which has incorporated all of the changes and amendments up to a certain point-in-time – the consolidation date. An Act may be consolidated several times over its life.
  • Act Compilation: Similar to a consolidated Act, a compilation is a version of the statute as amended at a particular point-in-time – the compilation date. The text of any amendments that are not in force on the date when the compilation is prepared can be found in the Notes section which is located at the end of the compilation.
  • Authorised or Authoritative version of an Act: Version that is accepted for court proceedings. You can find the authorised/authoritative version on government websites. It will have the words “authorised” or “authoritative” on the Act.

Regulations/Statutory Rules

  • The most common type of subordinate legislation
  • Commonly called Regulations or Statutory Rules
  • Are made pursuant to an empowering Act
  • A person or body may be given the authority to make Statutory Rules by an empowering Act, such as a government department.


  • Commonly referred to as parliamentary debates
  • Are the transcripts of parliamentary proceedings
  • Contain second reading speeches and committee debates