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Australian Case Law

What is 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. Case law interprets and enforces the laws created by parliament.

Why is case law important?

In common law jurisdictions such as Australia, there are two primary sources of the law: case law and legislation. Case law is equally important in interpretting the law.

Case law are laws made by judges through their decisions in court cases. The court system is hierarchical, therefore judges in lower courts must follow decisions of higher courts. This is known as the doctrine of precedent. It is a key marker of the common law system. Jurisdiction is important in legal research. In the context of case law research, jurisdiction refers to the court which heard the matter. 

In legal research, it is essential to rely on the primary sources of law, including case law. This guide outlines where to go to locate case law.

Looking for the 'most important' case on a topic? Try secondary sources

The best way to locate key cases on your topic is to start with secondary sources such as books, journal articles and commentary. For more information on using secondary sources for legal research, read our Secondary Resources for Legal Research Guide.  
Alternatively, check the Research Databases by Type for the best legal databases to use.