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Self Paced Lesson - Case Law - Subject Guide: 12: Legal Dictionaries

Legal dictionaries draw definitions from statues and case law.


Researchers should not assume that the plain meaning of a word or phrase is necessarily the same when it is defined in an Act of Parliament or in a court case.

There are two types of legal definitions:

Definitions in Cases: A judge clarifies the meaning of a word or phrase in their judgment, this is referred to as "words and phrases judicially defined".

Definitions in Acts: Words and phrases are defined by parliament in legislative instruments such as Acts and Regulations.
You need to make sure that the Act you are looking at is relevant to the jurisdiction in which you are working.
Also be aware of the limitation of the definition with an Act.
If a definition is not given in an Act, you should look at the Acts Interpretation Act 1901 (Cth) and the Interpretation Act 1984 (WA) to see if they provide a standard definition which applies to all acts unless otherwise stated.

There are many legal dictionaries both in print and online, but they do not all hold the same value and importance in Australia as they do in the country of publication.
Meanings can vary from one jurisdiction to another. For example, do not assume that a definition that you find in a U.S. online dictionary is valid in Australia.
Similarly, do not assume that a word defined in a Victorian court has exactly the same meaning in WA.
However, when you can't find a useful definition in Australia you should consult whatever sources you can find, but you must use them with caution.

Other than the dictionaries recommended for purchase by your lecturers, the main reference dictionaries you should consult are:

  • Encyclopaedic Australian Legal Dictionary (Lexis Advance): one of several online legal dictionaries, and one of the few online Australian dictionaries.  
  • Words and phrases judicially defined in CaseBase on Lexis Advance and the Digest on Westlaw Australia.
  • Australian Law Dictionary on Oxford Reference.
  • United Kingdom

General search for meanings or definitions

Sample search string for definition in legislation and case law for vicarious liability:

(character* OR compris* OR defin* OR describ* OR discuss* OR element* OR expla* OR interpret* OR mean* OR phras*) /15 "vicarious liability"

Official Dictionary (for spelling)

AGLC Rule 1.9.1 states:

Spelling should comply with the latest edition of the Macquarie Dictionary.

Where a word is not included in the Macquarie Dictionary, the Oxford English Dictionary should be used.

Hyphenation should comply with the latest edition of the Macquarie Dictionary.

Use Library Search to locate the latest edition of the Macquarie Dictionary..


Grammar

AGLC Rule 1.9.2 states:

Grammar should generally be guided by the latest editions of Fowler's Dictionary of Modern English Usage.

Sourcing legal definitions on Lexis Advance

Lexis Advance has two dictionaries:

  • Australian Legal Words & Phrases
    gives the details of acts and cases from superior courts and selected tribunal that have defined the term 
  • Encyclopaedic Australian Legal Dictionary
    gives a definition as well as the details of cases and legislation that have defined the term

Use Library Search to access these dictionaries by typing in the title
Example: "Australian Legal Words and Phrases"

Quick Find | Defined Terms is the fasted way to access the legal dictionary definitions on Lexis Advance.

Searching Lexis Advance Dictionaries

Australian Legal Words & Phrases Encyclopaedic Australian Legal Dictionary

Step 1:

Select drop-down arrow beside Advanced Search
Select Secondary Materials

Step 1:

Select drop-down arrow beside Advanced Search
Select Secondary Materials

 

Step 2:

Scroll down the Search template to Defined Terms

Step 2:

Scroll down the Search template to Defined Terms

Step 3:

Add the search string  managing /3 director

Step 3:

Add the search string  managing /3 director

Step 4:

Select Search

Step 4:

Select Search

Step 5:

Narrow results by using filters
located to the left of screen

Expand Publication

Select Australian Legal Words & Phrases

Step 5:

Narrow results by using filters
located to the left of screen

Expand Publication

Select Encyclopaedic Australian Legal Dictionary

Step 6:

Select the results for Managing Director

Click on the hyperlinked phrase
to view the names of acts and cases that
have defined the term

Note that the groupings by topic and jurisdiction

Step 6:

Select the results for managing director

Click on the hyperlinked phrase
to view the definition of the term.

The definition includes names of acts and cases that
have defined the term

Tip:

Take care when clicking on a link within the entry

The Act Title navigates to the whole Act

The section number is a separate link,
and navigates to the specific section within the Act

 

Step 7:

Select the links of cases available on Lexis Advance*

Use the Quick Find panel
on the Lexis Advance home page
to access legislation via LawNow

* Source cases on Westlaw AU if not available on Lexis Advance

   

Words and phrases judicially considered on Lexis Advance

As well as legal dictionary definitions, words and phrases can be defined in court cases.

Judgments are useful, as they

  • set out all interpretive rules used
  • contain facts and analogous cases to illustrate legal concepts
  • show the judge’s thought process

Step 1:

Select drop-down arrow beside Advanced Search
Select Legislation

Step 2:

Scroll down the Cases Search template to the Words and Phrases Judicially Considered field

Step 3:

Enter search term "good character" into Words and Phrases Judicially Considered text box.
Tip: Surround phrase words in double inverted commas

Step 4:

Select Search

Step 5:

Results can be Narrowed By:
     Jurisdiction
     Court
     Timeline
     Legal Topics
     and more…

Select Narrow By Legal Topics

Step 6:

Select Immigration Law

Step 7:

Browse the Results list, noting the Jurisdiction, source Court, dates the decisions were handed down, and any relevant signals

Step 8:

You are able to further narrow the search results by searching for key words

Narrow your Results by using Search Within Results for the term wife

Step 9:

Open a case that has NOT had cautionary treatment in subsequent judgments (check for a gold coloured signal) by clicking on the case citation
(located below the case name).
Note: The hyperlinked case name will take you to the CaseBase entry

Step 10:

Use the Search Document tool (located in the Toolbar at the top of the document) to search for  good character:
Use the arrow buttons beside the Search box to jump to each instance of the search term within the document

Complete the Sourcing words and phrases judicially considered using Lexis Advance tutorial to learn the skill for searching for legal definitions from court cases.

Copy this URL into Firefox if you usually use Chrome as your Internet browser: https://murdoch-au.libwizard.com/f/LegalDefinitionsJudicialConsiderationLexisAdvance

Legal Definitions in Westlaw Australia

Westlaw Australia does not include a legal dictionary.

However, legal terms can be found within The Laws of Australia or in case law.

 

The Laws of Australia

Case Law

Step 1: 

Select Content Type -  The Laws of Australia

Step 1: 

Select Content Type -  Cases

Step 2: 

Select Advanced Search

Step 2: 

Select Advanced Search

Step 3: 

Navigate down the screen to the Words & Phrases search box 
Enter the search terms in the Words & Phrases search box
For this example, enter "vicarious liability".
Select  Search.

Step 3: 

Navigate down the screen to the Words & Phrases search box 
Enter the search terms in the Words & Phrases search box
For this example, enter "vicarious liability".
Select  Search.

 

You can also conduct a global search for definitions or meanings across all materials:

(character* OR compris* OR defin* OR describ* OR discuss* OR element* OR expla* OR interpret* OR mean* OR phras*) /15 SearchTerm

Tip:  Filter or refine results list by document type (act, case, article, dictionary, encyclopaedia), jurisdiction, etc

 

Examples

(character* OR compris* OR defin* OR describ* OR discuss* OR element* OR expla* OR interpret* OR mean* OR phras*) /15 slaver*

(character* OR compris* OR defin* OR describ* OR discuss* OR element* OR expla* OR interpret* OR mean* OR phras*) /15 "vicarious liability"

Stroud's Judicial Dictionary of Words and Phrases

Stroud's Judicial Dictionary of Words and Phrases, from the United Kingdom, is one of the most respected sources of definitions in the common law world.
It is an important tool for lawyers and law students to use, less important for business and legal studies students.
It is a multi-volume work which is available in print in the Law Library's Reference Collection at R 340.03 STR.
TIP: if you cannot find the word, check if there is a supplement

Stroud's is a wonderful dictionary that will help you legally define "lard", "lawyers" and "life prisoner".
Stroud's defines "at once", "at or near", "at the time", "at work" and "asylum".
It informs us that in the UK the case between Robinson v Everett [1988] Crim LR 699 confirms that a "stuffed and mounted golden eagle" falls within the definition of a "Dead Wild Bird" for the purposes of The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (UK) s 1(2)(a).

According to the first edition of Stroud's in 1890:

"Its chief aim is that it may be a practical companion to the English-speaking lawyer, not only in the Mother Country,
but also in the Colonies and Dependencies of the Queen.
The hope is also indulged that it may be not without utility to the man of business, nor without interest to the student of word-lore" (vii).

Tip:

The Internet Archive has reproduced copies:

 e.g. The Judicial Dictionary of Words and Phrases Judicially Interpreted

Google Books provides a Preview of print books

e.g. The Judicial Dictionary of Words and Phrases Judicially Interpreted by F. Stroud

 

Australian Law Dictionary on Oxford Reference

Use Library Search to access this dictionaries by typing in the title
Example: "Australian Law Dictionary"

  • Access the Australian Law Dictionary 
  • You can
    • browse entries alphabetically
    • search within work using the search box to the left of screen
  • Included in the definition are key cases and related terms
  • If you cannot find a term in the Australian Law Dictionary, you can search all of Oxford Reference by adding your search term to the Search box at the top right of screen
    • ​results will be sourced from a significant array of general English language dictionaries as well as specialist dictionaries

Search for the phrase managing director using the Search within work filter, to the left on the screen.

Activity indicator1. What is the colour of the signal indicating positive treatment of a case in Lexis Advance

a. Gold
b.  Green
c.  Red

Response:

 

Activity indicator2. Which of the following cases discusses the meaning of "good character" in relation to citizenship issues in Lexis Advance? 

a. Singh v Commonwealth [2004] HCA 43; (2004) 222 CLR 322
b. Nolan v Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs [1988] HCA 45; (1988) 165 CLR 178
c. Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs v Dunne (1999) FCR 72

Response:

Activity indicator3. Which of the following cases discusses the meaning of "vicarious liability" that does not have a warning in Westlaw AU? 

a. Department of Land & Water Conservation v Greentree [2003] NSWCCA 31
b. Ingram-Nader v Brinks Australia Pty Ltd [2006] FCA 624
c. Sweeney v Boylan Nominees Pty Ltd (2006) 226 CLR 161
d. Prince Alfred College Inc v ADC (2016) 258 CLR 134

Response: