Court cases in Australia

Find information about court cases, including law reports, judgments, newspaper articles, police records and commentaries.

What are law reports?

Law reports summarise judgments in cases that are important for legal reasons. These are usually cases that set a precedent as to how other, similar cases will be decided. When a legal decision is made by a judge, it may involve interpreting the meaning of a law. If this interpretation is new, or different to previous interpretations, this sets a precedent. A precedent is usually followed, for the sake of consistency and credibility, by all other courts.

Some important features of law reports:

  • only some cases are reported (see court and police records for advice on finding unreported judgments)
  • law reports do not exist for jury cases (the judge cannot explain why or how the jury reached its verdict)
  • law reports are not transcripts of what was said in court, but are summaries of the important legal points
  • law reports only include judgments made in higher courts

Law reports are useful as they allow you to research the outcome of previous court cases. This will help you predict the arguments used in, and outcome of, current or future cases.

How do I find law reports?

Law reports are published in print and electronically.

The State Library has a large collection of printed law reports. We also subscribe to several databases which provide electronic access to law reports. Some law reports are available for free on the internet. See below for links to all of these types of resources.

Step 1 - find case citations

Do you have a citation (reference) to a report about a case of interest? If so, skip to Step 2.

If you need to find citations to reports about a specific case, check  the printed Australian digest and Australian case citator. Once you've found a citation, proceed to Step 2.

If you are searching for cases that relate to a particular topic or piece of legislation the printed Australian digest. These will provide relevant citations to follow up. Once you've found a citation, proceed to Step 2.

Step 2 - find law reports

You should now have some citations (references) to reports about relevant cases. These citations usual shorten the names of the series of law reports that include reports about the case. Use the links in the 'Understanding citations' section of this page to decipher these names.

Once you understand the citation you have found, use the links below (Online law reports and Printed law reports) to locate the series of reports that your report was published in. If the series of reports isn't listed below, check our catalogue, searching by the name of the report series.

Reports may be available online or in print.

Step 3 - find out more about a case

Once you have checked the report, you may want to find out more about the case. This guide gives advice on finding newspaper reports, other commentary, and court and police records on cases of interest.

Online law reports

Printed law reports

Some reports and indexes are available in the Library's Redmond Barry Reading Room. Most reports are in storage and have to be preordered for use. Their catalogue records (linked below) will tell you where resources are located.

The Library collections include many more law report series than those listed below. All law report series in our collection can be found by searching our online catalogue.

Citation abbreviations

What is a citation?

A citation tells you where something has been published. Citations to law reports and articles help you find the full text of those reports and articles.

Understanding citations

Citations often use abbreviations. For example:

R v Casement — [1917] 1 KB 98

refers to the case Regina (Queen or her representatives, in other words, the government) versus Casement. A judgment was reached around 1917, and was reported in the printed series of books Law reports, King's Bench Division 1901-1952 (Volume 1 for 1917, page 98).

Citations can be tricky to decipher! So, what do you do if you don't understand a citation?

Monash University has published a useful guide to abbreviations of legal publications.

Some online databases allow you to click on a citation for further information.

State Library staff can help you to find out if a particular publication is available at the Library. Or you can check if we have it, using the Library's catalogue.

What if there's no law report?

Not all cases are officially reported on. Sometimes you might have to consider other sources of information, such as newspaper reports, and court and police records (including unreported judgments).

Disclaimer

Staff at the State Library of Victoria do not offer legal advice. Every effort is made to provide up to date, accurate and relevant legal information but this is not intended to replace qualified legal advice.

This guide includes information about finding legal advice.

State Library Victoria

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