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Foundations of Law

For students enrolled in Foundations of Australian Law LAW101

What is a Case Citator?

What is a case citator?

Case citators are a good starting point for case law research.

Note: It is important to remember that when you are searching in a case citator you are not searching full-text case law. Citators are a case law index - they provide a range of information about a case, including:

  • Citation/s
  • Details of subsequent consideration of the case - including an indication of whether the case is still 'good law' - i.e. whether or not it has been overruled by a later decision.
  • Earlier cases considered by this case
  • Legislation judicially considered by this case
  • Journal articles about the case
  • Keywords and/or a digest summary of the key points of law
  • A link to the full-text of the case if available

Why use a case citator?

  • More relevant results - the information in a record has been written by a legal editor who has read the full judgment and summarised the key points of law
  • To check whether a case has been reported and/or identify the authorised or preferred version you should use
  • To quickly check the facts of a case, without reading the full judgment
  • To easily find details such as litigation history and subsequent consideration of a case

Using Case Citators

Using AustLII

The Australian Legal Information Insititute (AustLII) is a valuable source of free legal information. It provides access to a comprehensive range of legislation, journals, law reform commission materials and unreported judgments in all Australian jurisdictions.

AustLII is particularly useful for finding very recent cases, as it can sometimes take many months for a case to be reported in an authorised series.

However, remember that it is important to use the authorised version of a case if one is available.

Select the Right Cases

Use the following checklist to help select cases which might be helpful in your research. You will always need to go to the full case and read it.

  • Is the case relevant to the issue at hand - look at the Catchwords provided at the top of the case
  • What court was the case heard in? Has it gone to Appeal? Look for the highest level court decision.
  • Was the case heard before a full bench or a single judge?
  • Has the case been reported and is there an authorised version available?
  • Has the case been discussed in secondary sources, eg leading textbook or journal article.
  • Has the case been subsequently followed, approved, or applied? Make sure that the case is still "good law".

Finding a Case from a Citation

To locate a case you need to identify what the case citation means. For example:

R v Fitchett (2009) 23 VR 91

Party names = R (appellant) v Fitchett (defendant) (Appeal case) Year of law report/judgment = 2009 Law report volume = 23 Law report series = VR (Victorian Reports) Beginning page number = 91

  1. Find the law report in Lexis Advance or Westlaw AU.

Recent and unreported cases can be found on AustLII. Note that these use Medium Neutral Citation (MNC) rather than law report citations. An MNC consists of the year of the judgment in square brackets, the Court abbreviation, and a sequential judgment number. For example:

                [2010] VSC 13

Finding a Case by Name

Often, the only information you have about a case is one or both of the party names. There are a few tips when searching by party name:

  • Omit articles such as 'a', 'the' in names as well as terms such as 'Pty Ltd' in a company name
  • Beware of abbreviations - sometimes the case will be listed under the abbreviation, other times you will need to search for the full name
  • Beware of names with difficult or unusual spelling - always double-check spelling
  • Generally you should omit the 'v' if searching for a full case name - check the database help section to find out the correct way to enter the names
  • Party names are not unique, so it is important to verify that the case is the correct one by checking other details such as date, judge, court, topic etc.

Tip: The moral of the story is: Don't give up on your first try - sometimes it is necessary to try multiple searches and multiple databases to find the case you need.

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