A legal case is a dispute between opposing parties that is resolved by a court or equivalent legal process. The resulting judgment is based on the judge’s interpretation of the applicable law. The body of rules or principles resulting from previously decided cases constitutes what's known as "common law" or "case law" as a legal system. Case law research involves identifying and reading judgments to understand the reasoning behind them.
Cases are found within case law databases that are either subscription-based or open access/free databases. RMIT subscribe to a number of law databases, including Westlaw and Lexis. See below for links to key databases.
A word on dates:
Note that square or round brackets around the date in citations are significant!
Rule 1: Use round brackets if the date is not necessary to locate the decision. E.g. Mabo v Queensland (No.2) (1995) 175 CLR 1
Rule 2: Use square brackets when the date is necessary to locate the decision
E.g. reported decision: Beattie v Ball  3 VR 1
E.g. an unreported decision: Trotta v The Coroners Court of Victoria  VSC 70
What are case citators?
Case citators can be a good place to start legal research.
Case citators are a type of case law index and do not provide the full text of a case but may be linked to full text versions of the case where the publisher of the citator publishes the case series (i.e. Keycite in Westlaw AU will link to the Commonwealth Law Reports).
Why use them?
Citators can assist legal researchers in locating a variety of useful information about the case.
Case citators can be useful in helping determine:
Case citators use a variety of symbols to provide guidance on whether the case is still considered good law. They use symbols and annotations to explain the current status of the case.
Where do I find case citators?
The following are the most used case citators:
KeyCite in Westlaw AU
CaseBase in Lexis Advance Pacific
LawCite in AustLII
JADE Citator Search in JADE
In Australia, if a decision appears in an authorised report series, this is the version that must be cited in student essays and scholarly publications. In all Australian courts, there is a convention that the authorised report of a judgment be cited and handed up in court in preference to other versions. Cite in the order below -
Authorised Reports - these are published in a designated authorised report series. The published judgments have been reviewed by the presiding judge of the case and go through a process of annotation and review. These reports are the most authoritative report series and should be cited if they are available. E.g. Commonwealth Law Reports.
Unauthorised Reports - these do not go through the review process by the courts. They are a legitimate record of the court decision, however, these report series are often published quickly and may be the only reported version until the authorised version is available. In some cases, the unauthorised report may be the only source to locate certain cases, particularly matters from local courts and tribunals covering specialised areas of law. E.g. Australian Law Reports.
Unreported judgements - these are decisions of courts that have not been published in a law report. The decision may not have been published for a number of reasons; such as the case being too recent, the case does not add any additional authority to the body of case law, or it may have been overlooked as it is considered of little significance at the time.
Where can I find Authorised Reports?
|High Court of Australia||Commonwealth Law Reports (CLR)||Westlaw AU|
|Federal Court of Australia||Federal Court Reports (FCR)||Westlaw AU|
|Supreme Court of New South Wales||New South Wales Law Reports (NSWLR)||Westlaw AU|
|Supreme Court of Northern Territory||Northern Territory Law Reports (NTLR)||Westlaw AU|
|Supreme Court of Queensland||Queensland Reports (Qd R, QR)||Westlaw AU|
|Supreme Court of South Australia||South Australian State Reports (SASR)||Westlaw AU|
|Supreme Court of Tasmania||Tasmanian Reports (Tas R)||Westlaw AU|
|Supreme Court of Victoria||Victorian Reports (VR)||Westlaw AU|
|Supreme Court of Western Australia||Western Australian Reports (WAR)||Westlaw AU|
|England and Wales||English Reports (ER)||Westlaw UK|
Conducts independent merits review of administrative decisions made under Commonwealth laws. Reviews decisions made by Australian Government ministers, departments and agencies and, in limited circumstances, decisions made by state government and non-government bodies. Also reviews decisions made under Norfolk Island laws.
This Court has two divisions:
Division 1 (a continuation of the Family Court of Australia) deals with family law matters. Division 1 has 35 specialist family law judges hearing both trials and appeals.
Division 2 (a continuation of the Federal Circuit Court of Australia) deals with family law, migration and general federal law matters. Division 2 has 76 judges; 55 of which are specialists in family law and the remainder experts in various areas of general federal law and migration.
Federal Court of Australia
The Court decides disputes according to law - promptly, courteously and effectively contributing to the economic and social wellbeing of all Australians.
The High Court is the highest court in the Australian judicial system. It was established in 1901 by Section 71 of the Constitution. The functions of the High Court are to interpret and apply the law of Australia; to decide cases of special federal significance including challenges to the constitutional validity of laws and to hear appeals, by special leave, from Federal, State and Territory courts.
The highest court in Victoria, includes Court of Appeal and Trial Division. It deals with the state’s most serious criminal and civil cases.
The principal trial court in Victoria, sitting above the Magistrates’ Court and below the Supreme Court.
The first level of Victoria's court system. Matters are determined by a judicial officer and include criminal, civil and family matters, and intervention orders.
Resolves disputes and makes decisions in a number of areas, including but not limited to: residential tenancies, goods and services disputes, planning disputes, mental health, retail and commercial leases.
A specialist court with two divisions dealing with cases involving children and young people.
This Court has three roles:
- independently investigate deaths and fires
- reduce preventable deaths
- promote public health and safety and the administration of justice
In this section you will find information about how to obtain:
- transcripts for criminal matters
- transcripts for civil matters
- judgments made by courts and tribunals