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Law Guide: Understanding a case citation

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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
  • 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) 64 ALR 190.

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