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Legal Citation

Primary Materials - Cases

Don't Forget!!

Read this guide in conjunction with the Australian Guide to Legal Citation.

Legal Abbreviations

Case law and journal citations are made up of the abbreviation for the case report series or journal.
To find the unabbreviated case report series or journal title you can look at a number of different sources:

Cardiff Index to Legal Abbreviations

Raistrick's Index to Legal Citations and Abbreviations

Thomson Reuters' Firstpoint Table of Abbreviations

The Australian Guide to Legal Citation (ALGC) Referencing Guide

The La Trobe University Legal Abbreviations Database

When in CaseBase in Lexis Advance you can access an Abbreviation/Subject List from the help menu.

LCANZ - Legal Citations of Aotearoa New Zealand

Law Quick Guides

Citing Primary Materials - Cases

Primary materials are documents containing the law. Primary Materials are made up of two major categories, case law and legislation.  In this topic, we will look at the requirements for citing cases. The citation rules set out in The Australian Guide to Legal Citation (4th ed, 2018) are the basis of instructions listed here.

Cases are the records of the judgment or decision of the court.

Every decision starts out as an unreported judgment which is distributed to the parties involved and is published online in the unreported or medium neutral format.

Those decisions which are considered particularly important are published in authorised or official report series. These are decisions which are considered to have an impact beyond the parties involved. 

The report series contain editorial analysis and summary information (the headnotes) and the judge(s) words (the decision or the judgment) while the unreported series contain only minimal headnotes as produced by the court, and the judge(s)' words.

The image to the right shows the case Dalgarno v Hannah (1903) 1 CLR 1. This is the first case in the first volume of the Commonwealth Law Reports.

This page shows information such as the appeal history, the court it was heard in, the judges, the dates of hearing and headnotes.

Types of Law Reports

Authorised or official series:

The 'authorised' or 'official' report series is that which has been selected and approved by the judiciary, nominees or relevant government department as the preferred series of reports.  Each jurisdiction has only one series which is designated as authorised.  Cases which enunciate a general principle or point of law are usually included in the authorised series of reports.  While series of reports which are not authorised are still acceptable in courts, if a case has been reported in an authorised series as well as another series, it is preferable to cite the authorised report. 

AGLC rule 2.2.2 requires that, where available, an authorised report be cited in preference to an unauthorised report (see also Rules of the Supreme Court 1971 (WA) See the Authorised Report Series Quick Guide for a list of relevant report series. 

Unauthorised series:

These report series are produced more quickly and many are directed towards satisfying the needs of specialist practitioners.   These are published in response to market forces. There are several series of reports reproducing taxation and corporate law decisions.  Other areas with dedicated report series include family law, criminal law, motor vehicle reports, intellectual property reports and more.  Unauthorised series of reports include many reports of cases which may be published later in an authorised series, however they also include reports which may only be of transient interest, or illustrate the application of authoritative cases. 

AGLC rule 2.2.2 requires that, where an authorised series report does not exist, a generalist unauthorised reports should be cited in preference to subject specific unauthorised reports.  For example, if a case report where to appear in both the ALR's (Australian Law Reports) and the LGERA's (Local Government and Environmental Reports of Australia), but not in an authorised series, the ALR citation should be used. AGLC rule 2.2.7 requires that parallel citations not be used.

Unreported decisions:

When decisions are handed down by a judge or judges, they are described as being 'unreported'.  Decisions are then selected by the judge or judicial editorial board to be included in the authorised series, or by publishers for reporting in one of the subject series of reports.  However, in a jurisdiction with a small population such as Western Australia, only 20-25% of the decisions of the Supreme Court of WA are reported, which means the unreported judgments are a valuable resource for the community.   Although there is debate about the precedent value of unreported decisions, in practice and in academia they are heavily used as they may contain the only statement on the law on a particular subject.  

Unreported judgements have different citation rules (see AGLC rule 2.3) to law reports as noted below.   'Medium neutral' citation is a method of citing an unreported judgment  which does not discriminate between judgments published in electronic or print formats.  


Activity indicator1. Which of these citations would be acceptable in an essay?

a. Glennon v The Queen (1994) 179 CLR 1; 119 ALR 706; 70 A Crim R 459; 68 ALJR 209.
b. Pileggi v The Queen [2001] WASCA 260.
c. Macartney v The Queen (2006) 31 WAR 416; [2007] ALMD 872; [2006] WASCA 29; [2007] ALMD 706.