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RMIT University Library - Learning Lab

Finding Australian case law


This interactive video will step you through finding relevant cases and outcomes across Australia. Look for databases and case notes relevant to commonwealth and states cases. 

 Interactive video: includes quizzes and links to websites. Quizzes and links appear as boxes in the video window. Click them to test your knowledge or visit the site.

This video will help you find Australian case law and introduce you to:

law reports, case citations, legal abbreviations, case citators and databases,

law and justice library subject guides and links to Australian courts.

In order to find Australian case law first we need to understand how it is published.

Number one, unreported judgments

A copy of the judge's decision is published on the court's website or made available via the Australasian Legal Information Institute or Austlii.

This is the most immediate report after the case is heard.

Number two, unauthorized reports.

Publishers review unreported judgments and select the most significant to republish in their report series,

with summaries, topic headings, list of cases cited and legislation discussed.

The text of the decision remains unchanged.

Number three, authorized reports.

Unauthorized reports are sent back to the original judge or judges for their approval after which they are published in the authorised report series of the relevant jurisdiction.

Each jurisdiction has one authorized report series, for example Commonwealth law reports.

These are the most authoritative source for case law and therefore the best source for you to use.

It is possible for one case to be published in all three forms.

Case citations tell you what type of report or judgment it is and precisely where to find it.

They may include the case name, the year of the decision, the volume number the report series and the starting page of the case.

Report series titles are always abbreviated in citations.

There are guides available to help you know what these abbreviations mean.

Case citators are indexes to case citations with links to full text judgments.

Case databases contain secondary legal sources like journal articles, commentary and research.

RMIT students have access to online case citations and case databases through our library's subject guide for law and justice.

Lexis Advance Pacific and Westlaw AU are Australian case citators..

You can find them under cases in case law.

Advance pacific is useful for accessing unauthorized law reports such as the Australian law reports.

Westlaw AU has authorized reports for all Australian jurisdictions.

Austlii and Jade are free Australian case law databases.

Austlii is useful for recent and unreported cases but remember you should always check for an authorized version.

Let's take a look at Westlaw AU.

Under the heading 'view online' select Westlaw AU Thomson Reuters package.

Log in with your RMIT ID and password if asked.

Select OK to accept cookies.

There are several ways to locate a case.

You can search by citation, free text, case name or parties, legislation cited or words and phrases.

When you find the case you want, select First Point, which is the name of the case citator.

This case has three parallel reports so there are links to three citations

The best one to use is the authorized Commonwealth Law Reports version which is labeled ‘CLR’.

To download this version, select the tick beside the citation then the download icon.

From the First Point screen, you can view the judgment text.

One of the benefits of First Point is the access it provides to all of the related documents for a case. 

To return to the search screen, select ‘New search’.

If you don’t know the citation, you can use the case name or parties field.

When you're looking for cases in a specific area of law, try ‘Words and phrases’.

Use double quotation marks to search for specific phrases.

You can filter a large set of results by: judge, practice area, jurisdiction, date and so on.

Law and justice subject guide:

Test your knowledge

1. Australian case law can be published as:

a) Unreported judgements, Unauthorised reports, Authorised reports

b) Unreported reports, Unauthorised reports, Authorised reports

c) Unreported judgements, Unauthorised reports, Authorised judgements

2. It's possible for one case to be published in all three forms.

a) True

b) False

The most authoritative source for case law, and therefore the best source for you to use is:

a) Unreported judgements

b) Authorised reports

c) Unauthorised reports

Answers: 1a 2a 3b