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Law Guide: Understanding Case citations

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Understanding the Case Hierarchy

Understanding case citations

A case citation is a standard way of uniquely describing a case. It is important to adhere to the rules of citation so that the cases to which you refer can be easily identified and located by others. A citation for a reported judgment should contain:

  • names of the parties (with a v in between)
  • identifying date or volume number of report series, or both
  • abbreviation for the law report series title
  • page number at which the case begins

For example:

Mabo and others v The State of Queensland (No2) (1992) 175 CLR 1

  • Mabo and others is the PLAINTIFF
  • v stands for the Latin word versus which means against (spoken as 'and' in civil cases and 'against' in criminal cases)
  • State of Queensland is the DEFENDANT
  • No 2 indicates there was an earlier judgment of the same name
  • (1992) is the DATE of the law report
  • 175 is the VOLUME NUMBER of the law report
  • CLR is the ABBREVIATION OF THE NAME OF THE LAW REPORT SERIES IN WHICH THIS CASE IS REPORTED - Commonwealth Law Reports
  • 1 is the PAGE NUMBER on which the case begins

The parties are usually referred to as the plaintiff (the person or entity initiating the action) and the defendant (the person or entity defending themselves/itself against the claims of the plaintiff). In an appeal case the parties are referred to as appellant and respondent. If the hearing is before a tribunal the parties are called the applicant and the respondent.

Some citation methods might use 'at' and another number (e.g: 9) following the page number. This is known as a pinpoint reference. Following the Australian Guide to Legal Citation (AGLC), only a comma and page number is used (e.g: Mabo v Queensland (1992) 175 CLR 1, 9)

Why do some citations use square brackets and others round brackets?

Square brackets are used where the year is necessary for identification of the volume of a law report. The Victorian Reports, for example, start at volume one each year so you need to know the year and then the volume number within the year in order to locate a case. e.g: Abbott v Transport Accident Commission [1991] 2 VR 116.

Round brackets are used when the reference to the year is not necessary to identify the volume or report. The Australian Law Reports are numbered consecutively, so you only need to know the volume number. e.g: Mills v Meeking (1990) 91 ALR 16.

Unreported judgments and medium neutral citations

Many courts have introduced medium neutral citations. This is so that unreported judgments made available online can be cited in the same way as paper copies. This avoids confusion if page numbering differs over publication formats. The components of a medium neutral citation are :

  • names of the parties
  • the year of the judgment
  • abbreviation for the court name
  • number (assigned consecutively by order of issue)
  • status (unreported)
  • judges
  • date of judgment

For example:

Australian Broadcasting Corporation v Lenah Game Meats Pty Ltd [2001] HCA 63 (Unreported, Gleeson CJ, Gaudron, Gummow, Kirby, Hayne and Callinan JJ, 15 November 2001).

Note that the number following the court abbreviation is not a page number - it indicates that this is the 63rd High Court judgment for 2001

Examples of Court Abbreviations include:

  • HCA High Court of Australia
  • FCA Federal Court of Australia
  • QSC Supreme Court of Queensland
  • QSCA Supreme Court of Queensland Court of Appeal

To refer to a particular section of an unreported judgment, use the paragraph number. These numbers are listed at the side of unreported judgments and ensure that the case is cited consistently no matter where the judgment has been sourced. Paragraph numbers are cited in square brackets.

Citations to unreported judgments which are not available electronically, or where the court has not adopted medium neutral citation, include the following elements:

  • names of the parties (with a v in between)
  • status of the judgment (unreported)
  • court in which the case was heard
  • Judge/s who heard the case
  • judgment number
  • date of judgment

For example: Zaika v Zaika (Unreported, Supreme Court of New South Wales, Holland, J, No132/76, 5 February 1979).

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