Skip to Main Content

Commerce: Terminology

Primary sources - Case law: common questions answered

Reading a case

Headnotes: contains details of

  • Case title - plaintiff and defendant
  • Court in which the case was heard 
  • Court citation - the citation applied by the court for the case
  • Dates of the case including the dates of the hearing and the decision
  • Catchwords - aspects of the law that apply to the case: in other databases we would call these keywords. Catchwords are always in italics.
  • Case details and the judgement. Where multiple judges have heard the case, then each judge's decision is listed separately.


  • All cases that the judges used in making their decision

Primary sources - Legislation


  • Law made by governments
  • By jurisdiction - that is State, Territory and Commonwealth

Can be 

  • Acts as passed - the original version of the act; by governments
  • Consolidated Acts - the currently in force version of the act - including all amendments including the most recent.
  • Repealed Acts - Acts no longer in force

Can have

  • Subordinate legislation or regulations

Secondary sources

Secondary sources in law are commentary and journal articles about cases, legislation, and various legal topics. Legal dictionaries and legal encyclopedias are also secondary sources.

Case citators and digests are also considered secondary sources as they are summaries of cases, not the case itself.

Finding secondary sources can lead to finding relevant cases and legislation on a particular legal topic or point of law.

Case Citators


  • A summary of the case
  • A list of cases cited by the judges in making their judgement (older cases). Cited cases can be applied, considered or distinguished.
  • A list of legislation cited by the judges in making their judgement.
  • A list of cases that have cited the case in forming the judgement (future cases). The case may be applied, considered or distinguished.
  • The litigation history of the case if heard in a higher court.
  • Any journal articles and commentary relating to the case.

JCU has two case citators in subscribed legal databases.

  • CaseBase found in Lexis Advance Pacific
  • FirstPoint found in Westlaw AU

More terminology

Report series: refers to the many different report titles that cases are reported in. In library terms they are also called periodicals  or serials.


We acknowledge the Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the first inhabitants of the nation and acknowledge Traditional Owners of the lands where our staff and students, live, learn and work.Acknowledgement of Country

Creative Commons Licence
Except where otherwise noted, this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike (CC BY-SA) 4.0 International License. Content from this Guide should be attributed to James Cook University Library. This does not apply to images, third party material (seek permission from the original owner) or any logos or insignia belonging to JCU or other bodies, which remain All Rights Reserved.