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Self Paced Lesson - Legal Citation - Subject Guide: 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.

There are different types of law reports:

  1. authorised
  2. unauthorised
  3. unreported - medium neutral


Case Type Attributes
Reported: Authorised

Reviewed and approved by the court to be published

Most authoritative reporting series

Should be cited if available
Reported: Unauthorised

A judgment that has been deemed significant (i.e. precedent value) and reported in law reports

Legitimate record of court decisions

Often published the day after decision

May be the only reported version until the authorised version is available

A judgment delivered in court

Have not been published in a law report

Have been published by the courts

Reported Judgments

When a decision is made in court it is made available as an Unreported judgment.
If the case is deemed important, and only a small proportion are, then it may then be published in a Law Report series, thus becoming a reported judgment.
These judgments are ones that

  • raise significant points of law
  • introduce a new principle of law
  • significantly modify an existing principle of law
  • settle a question of law
  • apply an established principle in a new area
  • define or interpret legislation or legal terms, or is particularly instructive

Judgments can be reported in an authorised reporting series, an unauthorised reporting series, or both (because the unauthorised series is available before the authorised series).

Authorised or Official Reporting 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)
The Authorised Report Series list has the relevant report series. 

Unauthorised Reporting 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.
"Medium neutral' citation is a method of citing an unreported judgment which does not discriminate between judgments published in electronic or print formats. 

Carefully read  AGLC rule 2.3.1 and 2.3.2 to understand the differences in citing judgments with and without medium neutral citations.

Butterworths Citation Numbers

The ‘BC’ version of a case (Butterworths Citation) is a citation unique to the Lexis Advance database.

Unreported cases were given a number by Butterworths, which is now known as Lexis.

A BC number should not generally be cited.

Westlaw Citation Numbers

The ‘WL’ version of a case (Westlaw Citation) is a citation unique to the Westlaw database.

Unreported cases are given an accession number by Westlaw.

A WL number should not generally be cited.

How to read a Case Citation

Students studying law are required to develop understanding and confidence reading case citations.

The following citation, taken from CaseBase on Lexis Advance, shows the different parts of an example case citation and what the abbreviations mean.

When looking at case citations for case reporting series, think 'print'.
Imagine bound volumes of cases on the library shelves.
Some reporting series have volumes that started as Volume Number 1, Volume 2, etc.
Other reporting series label each volume by the year of the judgments in the volume, so 2019, 2020, 2021, etc.
When you have a citation, you would take the relevant volume from the shelf, and turn to the starting page of the case.

With the example above, I would take volume 204 of the Australian Law Reports (this contains cases from 2003) from the shelf,
and turn to page 90 to find the first page of the case judgment.
ALRs are a generalist reporting series, so give an even handed account of the case.

Alternatively, I could take volume 59 of the Intellectual Property Reports (this contains cases from 2003) from the shelf,
and turn to page 318 to find the first page of the case judgment and read this version.
IPRs are a specialist reporting series, so focus on the area of intellectual property and expand on this in their account of the case.

[Square Brackets] and (Parenthenses)

With a few exceptions, the choice of [square brackets] or (parentheses) indicates the manner in which the case series is organised.

As per Sue Milne and Kay Tucker, A Practical Guide to Legal Research (Thomson Reuters, 2nd ed, 2010), 141:

"Where a law report series uses continuous numbering of its volumes, parentheses are used around the year.
Where there is no volume numbering or the numbering begins from 1 again each year, the year is placed in square brackets.
This places the emphasis on the year for location purposes rather than on a recurring volume number.
For example, the Victorian Reports before the year 2000 would be cited as:

 Cole v Elders Finance & Investment Co Ltd [1993] 2 VR 356

 However from 2000, continuous numbering had been employed in the Victorian Reports. Therefore a more recent citation would be:

 State of Victoria v Davies (2003) 6 VR 245

Some exceptions to this occur in particular case series where the publisher has chosen not to adhere to standard conventions. For example:

 Corbett v Pallas [1995] Aust Torts Reports 62,236.


For more information on the use of [square brackets] versus (parentheses) see 2.2 of the Australian Guide to Legal Citation.

For more information about the exceptions see Bruce Bott and Ruth Talbot-Stokes, Nemes and Coss' Effective Legal Research (Lexis Nexis, 4th ed, 2010), 28.

What does the series abbreviation mean?  

The initial citation task is to identify where the case has been reported.
Library catalogues generally use the full series title which means you need to be able to use the appropriate tools to find what the abbreviation means.

The main tool used to assist with finding out the name of a case law series or legal journal series is:

Once you solve the unabbreviated name of the report series, you can enter this into Library Search.
This will give you a listing of the Library's holdings of the series, including whether it is available online, in print, or both.

Unique Court Identifiers

AGLC Rule 2.3.1 lists the most common unique court identifiers for decisions with medium neutral decisions.

Appendix A in the print edition of the AGLC lists all Law Report Abbreviations.

Appendix B lists all Australian Medium Neutral Unique Court (and tribunal) Identifiers.

Reported Cases

The essence of a case citation for a report series is:

Parties' names + year + volume (if any) + series abbreviation + starting page number +, pinpoint reference.


The notes listed here are not exhaustive, but are designed to point students to the pertinent sections of the Australian Guide to Legal CitationAGLC rule 2 details the requirements for citing cases.

Parties' names

Where parties to a case are individuals, given names and initials should be omitted (AGLC rule 2.1.1). 

Where there are many parties to the case, only the first named plaintiff and defendant should be included in the citation and the abbreviations & Anor  and & Ors should not be used (AGLC rule 2.1.1). 

AGLC rule 2.1 deals exhaustively with the requirement for citing party names including business names, states' names, the Crown, government departments and Ministers (AGLC rules 2.1.2 – 2.1.7). 

AGLC rule 2.1 also details how cases including Re, Ex parte, and ex rel in the party names should be cited (AGLC rules 2.1.9 -2.1.10).   




A ‘ v ’ should separate the parties’ names and it should be italicised and not followed by a full stop.  In speech, the ‘v’ is spoken as ‘and’ in civil cases and ‘against’ in criminal cases (AGLC rule 2.1.11). 


Parallel Citations


AGLC rule 2.2.7 states that parallel citations should not be used for Australian cases.


Multiple Proceedings


AGLC rule 2.1.13 specifies that where there are multiple proceedings between the parties, the number of the decision should appear in square brackets, if it appears in the case name itself. This rule applies equally for unreported judgments.


Year and Volume


Where the case report series is organised by volume, the year of the report being cited appears in round brackets, and where it is organised by year, the year of the report being cited appears in square brackets (AGLC rule 2.2.1). 


Series Abbreviations


The abbreviation of the law report series should adhere to AGLC rule 2.2.3, and use the abbreviations which appear in the appendix to the AGLC.  


First Page and Pinpoint Reference


The first page of the report should appear after the abbreviated form of the case series (AGLC rule 2.2.4). 

A 'pinpoint' refers to a specific page or paragraph to which a reference is being made.  Pinpoint references should appear after the start page and be preceded by a comma and a space. 

Where the report is paginated, the pinpoint should be to a page number.  If paragraph numbers are also present, the paragraph number may be included in addition, in square brackets (AGLC rule 2.2.5).  

Unreported Cases

The essence of a case citation for an unreported judgment in medium neutral format is:

Parties' names + [Publication year] + Unique court identifier + Judgment number + [Pinpoint].



The notes listed here are not exhaustive, but are designed to point students to the pertinent sections of the Australian Guide to Legal CitationAGLC Part 2.3 details the requirements for citing cases.


Parties' Names

The same rules apply for citing parties' names in a medium neutral format as for a citation from a report series.


Multiple Proceedings

AGLC rule 2.1.13 specifies that where there are multiple proceedings between the parties, the number of the decision should appear in square brackets, if it appears in the case name itself (see the example above, where [No 2] appears in the case name). This rule applies equally for reported judgments.


Unique Court Identifier

AGLC rule 2.3.1 details how decisions with medium neutral citations should be cited.
The preferred unique court identifiers for the superior courts are listed at this rule. 


Judgment Number and Pinpoint Reference

The judgment number follows the unique court identifier, followed by the pinpoint, which will be to a paragraph number, appears in square brackets (AGLC rule 2.3.1).

•  Use preferred unique court identifiers for Australian Supreme and superior Commonwealth courts (appendix B)

•  Use paragraph numbers for pinpoint references 


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.



Activity indicator2. Look at the following case citations and identify if they are medium neutral, or taken from a subject specific series of reports or an authorised series of reports.

a. Glennon v The Queen (1994) 70 A Crim R 459.
b. Mickelberg v The Queen (2004) 29 WAR 13.
c. Mickelberg v The Queen [2004] WASCA 145.



Activity indicator3. Look at the following case citation: Mickelberg and the Queen (2004) 29 WAR 13 and answer the following questions:

a. Look at the citation above.  What page does the report start on, 2004, 29 or 13?
b. What is the series abbreviation? What does it stand for?
c. The parties to the case are...



Activity indicator4. Use the tools given in this guide to find what the full name of the report series which is abbreviated as SCR.

a. Supreme Court Reports of Chile
b. Canada Supreme Court Reports
c. State Court Reports




Activity indicator5. Look at the following taken from CaseBase on Lexis Advance. These are called 'parallel citations':

News Limited v Australian Rugby Football League Ltd (1996) 64 FCR 410; (1996) 139 ALR 193; (1996) 21 ACSR 635; (1996) 35 IPR 446; (1996) ATPR 41-521; BC9604667 - FedCt(NSW) - 04/10/1996

Identify the following elements of these parallel citations:

a. 64
c. 446
d. BC9604667