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Australian Case Law

Use case citators to find cases


A case citator is an index to case law. It provides a summary of the case along with additional information, such as:

  • the litigation history,
  • the cases and legislation that were considered in the case,
  • how the case has been treated in subsequent cases
  • commentary on the case in journal articles, and
  • links you to the full text of the case.

In Australia, the two subscription case citators are CaseBase (Lexis Advance) and FirstPoint (Westlaw AU). 

LawCite and Jade are two free services available.

You can search citators using the case name, citation or partial information such as the name of at least one party, the jurisdiction or court to find a case.

Is a case still 'good law'?


 

Both major citators (CaseBase and FirstPoint) contain a signaling system so you can quickly identify whether a case is still 'good law'. Good law are judgments that are still being followed or applied by the courts, and is therefore still current and good law to rely on in your arguments. Below are the symbols used by the citators:

CaseBase
 A negative (red) signal is given to decisions which have been subsequently reversed, not followed, disapproved or overruled

 A cautionary (yellow) signal is given to decisions which have been subsequently distinguished, explained, questioned or varied.

 A positive (green) signal is given to decisions which have been subsequently applied, approved, followed or affirmed.

 A neutral signal is given to decisions which been either considered or cited (also 'referred to' or 'discussed').

 A citation information signal is given to decisions for which there is only citation information available.

 

FirstPoint

 A red flag warns that the case bas been reversed, varied, disapproved or overruled on at least one point of law.

 A yellow flag warns that the case should be viewed with caution, however the case has not been reserved, disapproved or overruled.

 An enclosed blue 'H' indicates that the case has some history but it is not known to be negative history.

 An enclosed green 'C' indicates that the case has citing references but no direct or negative indirect history.

 

Finding cases considering legislation


  • CaseBase (Lexis Advance) - use the 'Act/Regulation' field to search for legislation judicially considered. Use the 'Provision' field to search for a legislative provision.  
  • FirstPoint (Westlaw AU) - use the ‘Legislation Cited (Title)' field and enter the name of the legislation as a phrase eg. “Trade Practices Act 1974".  Use the 'Legislation Cited (Provision)' field to search for a specific section of the legislation. 
  • Westlaw Australia (new platform) - navigate to Cases and use the Advanced Search template. Enter the name of the legislation into the Legislation Cited (Title) field and use the Legislation Cited (Provision) field to add the section or subsection.
  • LawCite (AustLII) - use the field of the search form - enter the name of the legislation and the section if relevant. 
  • JADE - use the 'Citator' option, enter your search terms (legislation name and if relevant, the section) and press search. This will give you a list of cases that have cited the legislation you have searched for.
  • LawOne (TimeBase) - once you have found the legislation you are looking for cases on, select the 'Key info' box to the right of the screen.  Under the heading 'Related instruments' there is a link called 'Cases', click on this and a list of cases will appear which you can sort by year or court. You can also do this at a legislation provision level - at the provision level a box titled 'Cases' will appear next to the box 'Key info'. 

 

Finding journal articles discussing a case


The case citators outlined above also include links to selected journal articles and commentary services discussing a case. To search for more journal articles, we recommend:

INFORMIT (Melb Uni staff & students only).

  • Select the databases AGIS and Humanities & Social Sciences Collections.
  • Type the parties' names into the search box (eg: Koowarta v Bjelke-Petersen )
  • select Legal Cases (CASES) from the drop down Field menu

AustLII Journals (open access)

  • Type the parties' names into the search box in this way: Koowarta near Bjelke-Petersen (using a 'v' between the party names will only find articles with the parties in the title - these will be highly relevant but you will miss other articles which discuss the case)
  • the most relevant articles will be listed first.
  • you can click on the context button to locate all references to the case in the article.

Finding cases on a topic


 

Below are a series of steps for locating cases on a topic.

1. Start with secondary sources such as textbooks, which will cite significant cases on the topic. 

2. Find relevant journal articles, use topic keywords to search:

3. Use commentaries on the topic, such as those on CCH, Lexis Advance and Westlaw AU

4. In addition to using secondary sources:

  • FirstPoint on Westlaw AU indexes cases by topics which can be browsed or searched using the 'Classification' field on the search form. You could also enter a search term in the 'Catchwords' field in the FirstPoint search form - this will search for your term in the catchwords section of the judgment. 
  • Use the Australia - by catchwords on Lexis Advance to search the topic in the catchwords lookup search box.
  • JADE (open access) can be searched by topic, catchword, tag or cloud.

TIP: the case law databases will find many cases, but not all will be significant - use books, articles and commentaries to ensure the importance of the case.