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Law, Criminology & Security - Subject Guide

About Tertiary and Secondary Materials

About Secondary and Tertiary Legal Materials

Tertiary legal materials COMPILE, LIST or DIGEST information on the law from other sources.

Tertiary materials provide overview and background and include reference tools which help find the law:

  • citators
  • dictionaries
  • directories
  • encyclopaedias
  • guides

‚ÄčNote: Tertiary Materials are NOT considered acceptable material upon which to base academic legal research, so cannot be included in Reference Lists


Secondary Materials

Secondary legal materials are those materials which are ABOUT the law.
Secondary materials assist sourcing relevant primary materials, as well as interpreting and discussing these:

  • Extrinsic Materials - Explanatory Memoranda (EMs), Second Reading Speeches, Reports, Bills
    (see About Legislation for more on these materials)
  • articles
  • books
  • commentary
  • reports


Primary legal materials are the documents containing the written records of the law:

  • Legislation
  • Cases

Legal Dictionaries

Legal dictionaries include definitions from legislation and case law.

The plain or common meaning of a word is not necessarily the same as the legal definition.


Legal definitions

The plain or common meaning of a word is not necessarily the same as the legal definition.

Legal dictionaries will include definitions from legislation and case law:

1. Definitions in Acts:

Words and phrases are defined by parliament in legislative instruments such as Acts and Regulations.
There is often a section in any given Act which contains definitions of various words or phrases used in the Act.
This can usually be found at the start of the Act.
The headings of such sections vary. Some say ‘Interpretation’, others ‘Definitions’, others ‘Terms used’. 
If a definition is not given in an Act, check the Acts Interpretation Act 1901 (Cth) or the Interpretation Act 1984 (WA) for a standard definition that can apply to all Acts unless otherwise stated.

2. Definitions in Cases:

Sometimes a judge will define or clarify the meaning of a word or phrase in a judgment.
This is referred to as 'words and phrases legally defined'.


Legal Encyclopaedia

Legal encyclopaedia include a topic outline, relevant legislation, significant case law, and journal articles.

Legal encyclopaedia are useful when commencing research in an area of law that is new to you.


Articles discuss current trends and provide arguments on topical subjects.

(Books provide overviews and in-depth information on a topic.)

Mine the Reference List at the end of each chapter, and conclusion of the book for further study resources.

Peer-reviewed literature

  • peer-reviewed journals (or refereed journals) contain articles which have been evaluated by researchers working within the disciplines covered by the journals
  • Check the journal title in UlrichsWeb to see if it has a peer review publishing policy

Harvard Think Tank Search

  • a custom Google search of Think Tank web sites (institutions affiliated with universities, governments, advocacy groups, foundations, non-governmental organizations, and businesses that generate public policy research, analysis, and activity)


Books are useful to find overviews and in-depth information on a topic.

(Articles discuss current trends and provide arguments on topical subjects.)

The Table of Contents identifies key concepts within a topic.

Mine the Reference Lists at the end of each chapter and at the conclusion of the book for further study resources.


The Law Library is located on Level 3 of the Library (entrance level).

The Law Library Help Desk is located at the entrance of the Law Library.



Dewey/Call/Shelf/Subject numbers
relating to Law:

Dewey/Call/Shelf/Subject numbers relating to Law:
Dewey number Description


International Law
342 Constitutional Law
343.96 Shipping Law
344.1 Employment Law
344.4 Health Law
344.46 Environmental Law

Sports Law

345 Criminal Law
345.4 Criminal Liability
346 Private Law
346.2 Contract Law
346.3 Torts
346.4 Property Law
346.5 Trusts
346.7 Business/Finance Law
347.06 Evidence Law
347.09 Dispute Resolution
348 Statute Law
349 Comparative Law
362-365 Criminology

Legal Encyclopaedia

Halsbury's Laws of Australia

The Laws of Australia


Legal commentaries and updating services provide guidance in applying the law on a particular subject area.

Written by subject specialists, practitioners and academics, commentary services provide an explanation of laws using a mix of commentary, legislation (full text or extracts) and key cases.

Many commentary services include in-depth, practical insights, together with extensive illustrative material, enabling an appreciation of both the technical and procedural aspects of the law.


Printed commentaries were known as loose-leaf services that were published as a series of unbound pages, often stored in a ring binder, and regularly updated.

Updates would consist of packs of pages that would replace out-dated information and need to be inter-filed into the existing binder.

Extrinsic Materials

Extrinsic materials provide guidance on the meaning behind, and the intended purposes of, an Act of Parliament.

Extrinsic materials are materials which do not form part of the Act itself, but assist in the interpretation of the Act.

These materials can include:


Understand an Act

Bill + EM + 2RS + Reports = Act

How to Source Tertiary and Secondary Materials

Secondary Materials Research

Extrinsic Materials Research