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Law Guide: Key resources for finding cases

Find targeted resources for research and referencing

Case law

Case law is law made by the courts, and consists of the judge's written reasons for his or her decision. Sometimes the judge does not release written reasons. Verbal judgments are called 'ex tempore' and are not reported. Additionally, jury cases do not have written judgments. Cases may be referred to as judgments or decisions, and sometimes reasons or orders.

Judgments made in legal cases have been recorded for hundreds of years. In England the earliest cases were recorded in the yearbooks which date from the thirteenth century. In Australia legal cases have been recorded in various series of law reports since the very early days of European settlement.

Researching case law

Typical case law research tasks include:

  • Locating incomplete citations, eg you may need to locate a case for which you have only one or both party names without the remainder of the citation.
  • Finding cases on a particular subject, eg you are writing an essay on medical negligence and need to locate cases on that subject.
  • Tracing the judicial history of a case, eg you need to find out whether a particular case has been examined in subsequent cases. Has a ruling been upheld or overturned?
  • Finding whether legislation has been judicially considered, eg are there any cases which examine a particular piece of legislation?

These tools will help you carry out those tasks:

Databases for finding cases

Watch demonstrations on using different legal databases to find cases

Case Citators

Case citators provide information on where to find cases. The citator lists all of the report series in which a case is reported, and for each case also includes information on:

  • Later cases in which the case was looked at by the court.eg considered, followed, distinguished, overruled etc. This is known as 'noting up' or tracing the judicial history of a case
  • Statutes judicially considered in the case
  • Journal articles written about the case
  • Some citators also include catchwords- terms describing the nature of the case e.g. duty of care

The case citators that we have at JCU are:

Legal Digests

Digests provide summaries of important superior court decisions but do not contain full text cases. They allow you to find cases by name as well as the following :

  • cases by topic
  • cases considering sections of legislation
  • legal definitions of words and phrases
  • case summaries
  • cases judicially considered or examined in other cases

The Australian Digest

The Australian Digest aims to provide a digest (or summary) of all reported decisions of Australian superior courts since 1825.

This is available online in:

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