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Law: Cases

Resources for legal research, writing and referencing.


If you have a case citation, you can use online databases or print report series to find the text of the case. Use the database's Help for guidance.

Cases may also be referred to as court decisions, judgments, judicial decisions, case law or the common law (as opposed to statute law or legislation) and, as primary sources, are also integral to legal research.

The first version of a case is the court's unreported judgment (see below).

Cases which are judged to have made a contribution to the common law and have considered legal principles are then chosen to be reported in law reports that may be found in print and/or online. Some of these are authorised reports which have been given official approval. There are also unauthorised report series which may be published more quickly, be more specialised and the cases may still appear later in authorised reports.

When you are citing a reference to a reported case, you should prefer the citation from an authorised source.

See the list of Australian Authorised Law Reports from Monash University Library.

Understanding the elements of the citation to a case is the first step in locating the report and understanding the principles of the court judgments. In the example below we look at these elements:


Mabo v Queensland [No 2] (1992) 175  CLR  1

 1                                     1                        2                3             4           5          6

1. These are the names of the principal parties - in italics: Mabo (the plaintiff) and The State of Queensland (the defendant). These are the elements of the Case Name.

2. This is an identifying number distinguishing this case from others with the same case name

3. This is the year of the report

4. This is the volume number of the report series

5. This is the abbreviation of the law report series- here, CLR is the Commonwealth Law Reports

6.  This is the first page of the case report

Unreported judgments are handed down by the court. Some may subsequently appear in a report series if they are thought to be significant. Unreported judgments can be found using this medium neutral citation:

McLeod v The State of Western Australia [2015]  WASC 48
                                           1                                            2                    3                   4


1. These are the names of the principal parties: McLeod (the plaintiff) and the State of Western Australia (the defendant). These are the elements of the Case Name.

2. This is the year of the decision - note the square brackets

4. This is the abbreviation of the court: WASC is the Supreme Court of Western Australia

5. This is the case number: 48. This is the 48th case in the WA Supreme Court in 2015.

Before searching databases, start with secondary sources such as textbooks, case citators, encyclopaedias and commentary to find the names of major cases on a topic.

To reference a particular section of a case in the AGLC (3rd ed) referencing style, use the page number as a pinpoint reference orcitation reference point.

For example: Mabo v Queensland [No 2] (1992) 175 CLR 1, 7

For information on referencing in the AGLC (3rd ed) style, see Referencing.

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