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Law Guide: Reported and unreported judgments

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Reported and unreported judgments

There are two main types of case law :

  • Reported cases - judgments published in law reports. Only those cases which deal with significant points of law are considered to be valuable precedents and are included in law reports.
  • Unreported cases - judgments either too recent to be reported, or considered not sufficiently important to report.

Reported Judgments

Reported judgments are published in law reports. Some law report series publish judgments from a particular court (eg the Commonwealth Law Reports contain only judgments of the High Court of Australia). Others collect judgments in specific areas of law (eg the Australian Corporations and Securities Reports on corporations law). Cases may be reported in more than one law report series. Where this occurs the alternative citations are called parallel citations.

Unreported Judgments

Unreported judgments may be too recent to have been published in a law report or not important enough to be published. Many Australian unreported judgments are readily available via free Internet sites. Reported cases are more authoritative than unreported cases. If a case is available in a reported and unreported format, use the reported version.

For example the 2001 Commonwealth v Yarmirr case has been available on the Internet as an unreported decision since it was handed down by the High Court. The unreported citation is The Commonwealth v Yarmirr; Yarmirr v Northern Territory [2001] HCA 56 (Unreported, Gleeson CJ, Gaudron, McHugh, Gummow, Kirby, Hayne and Callinan JJ, 11 October 2001). This case has also since been reported in the Commonwealth Law Reports (CLRs). The CLR (or reported) citation is the Commonwealth of Australia v Yarmirr (2001) 208 CLR 1. This is the correct citation to use when referring to this case.

Finding unreported judgments

Not all judgments are reported in law reports. Recent judgments and others not contained in law reports are called unreported judgments.

Typically, a citation to an unreported judgment looks like this:

Hurley v McDonald's Australia Ltd [2000] FCA 138 (Unreported, Spender, Drummond, Katz, JJ 18 February 2000)

It is good practice to refer to a reported version of a case if possible, so make a habit of checking a citator such as FirstPoint (via Westlaw AU) to see if an unreported version of a case has since been reported anywhere.

Many unreported judgments can be found online. Westlaw AU and the AustLII website make judgments available very shortly after they are handed down.

Many UK judgments can be found on BAILII. Reported and unreported UK and US judgments can be found online on LexisNexis.

WorldLII links to a wide range of international caselaw available on the web.

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