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Legal skills - Research

This guide is designed to help you locate, evaluate and update relevant legal information.

What is case law research? 

 

Case law research involves:

  • finding relevant cases,
  • ensuring that the cases are still "good law", and 
  • checking that you have found the most authoratative version of a case. 

 

Below are links to the legal resources such as digests and citators, legal databases and library helpsheets to help you with your case law research. 

 

If you need to review your case law research skills please go to the Getting started tab on the left and do the third module of the 'Law Tutorial Online - Case law'. 


 

(This video was developed by the Legal Information Access Centre (LIAC), State Library of NSW, with funding from the Law and Justice Foundation of NSW.)

 

How do I find a case?

There are a number of ways to locate relevant case law.

Below is a video below about how to find a case and our recommended databases for case law research.

 

 

 

(Created by the Queensland University of Technology Library, 2015)

 

 

How to I find a case by citation? 

 

A case citation is a way of describing a case. For example, the citation Rogers v Whitaker (1992) 175 CLR 479 has the following elements:.

To find this case there are two steps:

The first step is to find where the case has been published.  Using the example above Rogers v Whitaker (1992) 175 CLR 479, you will look up the abbreviation CLR.   

You may find abbreviations in the Cardiff Index to Legal Abbreviations or in another guide:

Once you have located the title of the law report series (e.g. Commonwealth Law Reports) the second step is to locate the Law Reports Series in the University of Tasmania Library Catalogue:




Or you can search the Classic Catalogue

 

It is important to remember an authorised report (if available) should always be cited in preference to another report series, or unreported judgment (AGLC3 Rule 2.3.1).

For a list of authorised law reports see: Library Helpsheet 'Authorised Reports'.

For more on authorised reports see: How do I evaluate legal materials in this Guide.

How can I find cases on a topic?

You can find authoritative cases by topic by searching databases and digests in print and online.

Databases allow you to search using key words or phrases. You can select search terms from your assignment, or from secondary sources such as legal dictionaries and encyclopedias, and enter these into the databases linked above.  You can see more on creating effective search phrases, also known as Boolean searches, in the Getting Started tab

Digests provide a topic based approach to locating relevant cases. Digests summarise the main points of the case to help the researcher decide on the relevance of the case to the issues. 


Digests

Below are some digests available to University of Tasmania students.

 

ALMD (Australian Legal Monthly Digest) Summaries of significant reported decisions arranged alphabetically. Cumulative Tables published every six months. Tables include indexes, tables of cases and words and phrases. 
Australian Current Law Reporter Up-to-date case law consolidated by subject area and jurisdiction. ACL Reporter provides comprehensive digests of all available judgments from the High Court, the Federal Court and the State Supreme courts, as well as important decisions from the Family Court, Federal Magistrate's Court, AAT and selected tribunals.
The Digest : Annotated British, Commonwealth and Euorpean Cases The Digest may be described as a super-index to the Law Reports and, in fact, is the only index to the Law Reports 1865-1950. It is a vital source for British, Commonwealth and European cases as it covers all important points of principle and includes an annotated history of each case.

 

 

What is a case citator?

Citators are tools that allow you to search for information about cases. It is a tool which allows you to track the history of a case and the treatment of a case by subsequent courts.  A case citator, using a system of symbols and annotations, can provide you with the case status and information about subsequent judicial consideration. Citators allow you to determine if your case is still good law and it acts as a research tool to find other cases (and other materials) that refer to your case.

If you have a case name, citators are also an efficient way of:

  • finding the correct citation of a case and parallel citations,
  • finding other cases on the same topic, and
  • finding commentary on your case.

 

Once you have located your case in one of the case citators, look for the symbol appearing next to the party names of the case, this is referred to as a signal. The signal will give you an indication of the status of the case. In addition to signals, you will also wish to consider annotations. Annotations indicate how your case has been treated by subsequent cases. 

 

 

Case citators

Below are some citators available to University of Tasmania students.

 

Australian citators 

CaseBase  Case citator and annotator for over 35,000 cases. Covers over 60 law reports from Australia and the UK. Links to the full text of unreported judgments from the High Court and the Supreme Courts of all Australian states and territories. 
FirstPoint FirstPoint provides access to case references, citation, history, and digest information for Australian cases since 1825. 
LawCite LawCite is an automatically generated international legal case and journal article citator. LawCite is an AustLII database.

 

International citators

BriefCase/ViewCase [New Zealand] Index of more than 140,000 cases sourced from a variety of New Zealand Courts and Tribunals. Provides topic classifications and summaries of cases. Links to Unreported Judgments provided. Access is via Westlaw AU. 
Current Law Case Citator [UK]
Annotations and citations (Law) -- Great Britain.
KeyCite Coverage: Case law, statutes, regulations, administrative materials, patents and secondary sources. Coverage varies by Country (Australia, Canada, Hong Kong and United States). 
JustCite  JustCite is an electronic citator of cases, legislation and journal articles from the UK and EU jurisdictions. It now also provides information from selected common law jurisdictions, and from international courts. It links to reported cases published via ICLR.3.

Library Helpsheets

Below are links to help sheets produced by the University of Tasmania Law Library.

Guide to Australian Court and Tribunal Abbreviations [Medium Neutral Citations]

List of Authorised Reports

List of Law Reports Online. This resource list law report series, where they are located and dates available.  

 


What citation is best? 

 

All Australian jurisdictions have a set of official or 'that have been given official approval by the judiciary (Council of Law Reporting). These are referred to as 'authorised' law reports. Whether citing such cases in your assignment or using in court, it is important to always use the authorised citation of the case where possible. 

You can check whether you have the authorised version by looking through our list of Authorised Reports.

 

                                               

 

In Australia, the following citation convention applies (refer to AGLC4 Rule 2.2.2):
if the case is reported in an authorised report series, this version must be used.
 
if the case is reported, but not in an authorised series, the unauthorised report series should be cited in the following order of preference:
1. generalist report series such as ALR (Australian Law Reports); ALJR (Australian Law Journal Reports)
2. specialist report series such as A Crim R (Australian Criminal Law Reports); ATR (Australian Taxation Reports)
 
If the case is only unreported (Refer to AGLC4 Rule 2.3), the order of preference is:
1. the medium neutral citation assigned by the Court eg: [2009] HCA 23; or if the case has no medium neutral citation the citation convention used in AGLC4.
2. the number assigned by eg: LexisNexisAu which assigns a BC number eg: BC200905831
3. the AustLII version.