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Case Law Research: Case Law

Case Law Databases

Australian Case Law

Lexis Advance  - select CaseBase for the citation and abstract service to Australian case law, links to some full-text.

FirstPoint from Westlaw AU - a subject index and citator for Australian case law, links to some full-text.

AustLII - free full text access to Australian medium neutral citation versions and unreported judgments.

CCH IntelliConnect - includes a range of Australian decisions from a number of practice areas.

Jade - free database and current awareness service of Australian case law

LawCite - a free, automatically generated Australian and international legal case and journal article citator.

State Administrative Tribunal Decisions- Decisions of the SAT.

Western Australian Industrial Relations Commission Decisions - Decisions made by the WA Industrial Relations Commission


International Case Law


BAILII - British, Irish, EU case law, legislation and law commission reports

HeinOnline - English Reports (1220-1867) + US material

ICLR - Incorporated Council of Law Reporting for England and Wales, full text authorised case law database

Westlaw UK - UK and EU case law

CommonLII - Case law from 60 Commonwealth and common law jurisdictions

JustCite - Citation and abstract of UK, Irish, EU, Singaporean and other international case law.

Justis - full text of UK, Irish, EU, Singapore and other international case law (judicially considered legislation)

LawCite - a free, automatically generated Australian and international legal case and journal article citator.

Lexis - selected full text of US, UK, Canada, EU and other international case law.

TR Westlaw - full text of international legal resources, includes UK, Canada, US and EU Case Law

Westlaw China - Chinese legal information including Case Headnotes in English, full text in Mandarin.

Oxford Reports on International Law - full text of public international law decisions

WorldLII- global international law, broad coverage.

Investment Claims - Arbitral cases, international law.


American Maritime Cases - Maritime decisions rendered by US (Federal and State courts), legislative action, administrative law and arbitration decisions and Maritime Law Association of the U.S. source material. - Maritime and related commercial information, includes Lloyd's Law Reports

Kluwer Arbitration - decisions and awards on UNCITRAL Model Law, Arbitration

How To Source...

What is Case Law?

This 10:44 minute video produced by the QUT Law Library gives a great overview of case law:

Case law is an important source of law in all areas, even those that are heavily legislated.
Case law is a primary source of law and being able to identify, read and understand case law is integral to successful legal reasearch.

Case law is a central component to understanding, interpreting the law of a common law jurisdiction. It is the law developed over time by judges in superior courts.
Each case or judgment delivered by these superior courts is the solution to the dispute between parties to the case.
Once the judgment is delivered it becomes precedent that future disputes will be settled based upon.

Precedent is one of the core principles underpinning case law, it is based upon the hierarchy of courts which gives hierarchy in authority to judgments delivered by those courts.
Decisions made in superior (higher) courts form precedents and inferior (lower) courts must follow these precedents, this is the doctrine of precedent, or stare decisis.


The Encyclopaedic Australian Legal Dictionary (available through Lexis Advance) provides a number of relevant definitions that should help expand your understanding of case law:


Case law

Practice and procedure

The principles of law arising from judicial decisions. Case law is distinguished from statute law. Also termed ‘common law‘.
See also common law; precedent.


Common law

Legal terminology

The unwritten law derived from the traditional law of England as developed by judicial precedence, interpretation, expansion and modification: Dietrich v R (1992) 177 CLR 292; 109 ALR 385.
There is a single common law of Australia: Lipohar v R (1999) 200 CLR 485; 168 ALR 8; [1999] HCA 65.
The common law creates specific criminal offences, contains rules of evidence and practice and procedure, and sets out the rights and privileges of citizens.
Generally, a statute will not be taken to have repealed the common law unless it explicitly or implicitly shows such an intention: Fuller v R (1994) 34 NSWLR 233; Corporate Affairs Commission (NSW) v Yuill (1991) 172 CLR 319; 100 ALR 609.
A law interfering with a common law right of a citizen will generally be taken to be consistent with the common law so far as possible unless there is a clear legislative intention to abolish or limit the common law right: Coco v R (1994) 179 CLR 427; 120 ALR 415.

See also case law; code jurisdictions; doctrine of precedent; legislation.



Courts and judicial system

A judgment that is authority for later cases with similar facts; a case that is authority for the legal principle contained in its decision.
The doctrine of precedent means that the decision of a court on a matter of law is binding on all courts lower in the judicial hierarchy. The doctrine of precedent plays an important part in preserving a stable legal framework and promoting respect for law: Commonwealth v Hospital Contribution Fund (1982) 150 CLR 49; 40 ALR 673.
The High Court of Australia, whilst adhering to the doctrine of precedent, has always held itself able to depart from its own decisions where required for the proper exposition and development of the law: Trident General Insurance Co Ltd v McNiece Bros Pty Ltd (1988) 165 CLR 107; 80 ALR 574. 

See also International Court of Justice; jurisdiction; stare decisis.


Stare decisis


Lat – the decision stands. The doctrine under which a court is bound to follow previous decisions, unless they are inconsistent with a higher court’s decision or wrong in law. Stare decisis operates to secure certainty in the law.
The High Court is not strictly bound by its own decisions (Attorney-General (NSW) v Perpetual Trustee Co Ltd (1952) 85 CLR 237) although continuity and coherence in the law require that stare decisis will ordinarily apply (Jones v Commonwealth (1987) 71 ALR 497; 26 A Crim R 153).
Different considerations may apply to the interpretation of statutes (Ogden Industries Pty Ltd v Lucas (1968) 118 CLR 32; [1970] AC 113; [1969] 1 All ER 121) and the Commonwealth Constitution in that, although courts should be guided by earlier decisions, previous interpretations are no substitute for the original text of the statute or Constitution (Damjanovic & Sons Pty Ltd v Commonwealth (1968) 117 CLR 390).
The High Court has been prepared to depart from the doctrine of stare decisis where the case being reviewed ‘did not rest on a principle carefully worked out in a significant succession of cases’ and the justices constituting the majority had different reasons for their decisions: John v FCT (1989) 166 CLR 417; 83 ALR 606.

See also common law; precedent; ratio decidendi.

Competencies for Case Law Research

You should have an understanding of:

  • Hierarchy of the Courts
  • Reporting hierarchy and the authorised reports
  • Case citators, and why they are used
  • The difference between authorised and unauthorised reporting series
  • The difference between reported and unreported cases
  • How to find the unabbreviated name of a case reporting series
  • The structure of a case
  • Locating cases by subject
  • Locating cases by citation
  • Locating cases by party names
  • Locating cases that have judicially considered legislation or sections of legislation
  • Locating cases that have defined a term or phrase