Court cases in Australia

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

Researching a case

Understanding the court system

Before you begin your research, it helps if you understand the court system. Then you'll understand which court a case was likely to have been heard in, and which courts it may have been referred to on appeal.

Researching a specific court case

Official summaries of cases (law reports) and judicial decisions (unreported judgments) can usually only be found for cases:

  1. heard in the higher courts (Supreme Court and higher), or cases heard at VCAT, and
  2. that set a precedent (change the way the law is interpreted or applied), and
  3. where a decision was made by a judge (not by a jury)

If the case you are interested in was heard by a jury, or related to a relatively minor crime, or was heard in a lower court, there is not likely to be information available in official law report publications. Instead, the most likely source of information will be newspaper reports.

If the case was heard recently in a higher court, then the judge's decision may be published online.

Court and police records are much more difficult to access, as access is restricted for privacy reasons. They are usually closed from time of creation for 75 years for adults and 99 years for children - see section 9 of the Public Records Act 1973 for more information. If you are or were directly involved in a case you are more likely to be granted access to records.

Researching earlier cases that are similar to your case (precedents)

Past judicial decisions that influence the way new judgements are made are called precedent cases. Collectively these cases are known as case law.

Case law can help you to predict the likely outcome of a current case. You can see what decisions were reached in similar cases in the past, including how legislation, precedent and common law were applied.

Researching previous decisions can also help you develop an argument that your case differs from previous cases, and that a different decision should be reached in your case.

You can find out more about researching case law in our guide to finding law reports. Other commentary may also be useful, as these sources will summarise key cases and laws relating to a particular aspect of the law. Legal encyclopedias will also provide useful background reading, including lists of important cases relating to your topic of interest.

Please note that staff at the State Library of Victoria do not offer legal advice. Visit our page on finding legal advice if you need assistance with preparing a case.

Historical research (including family history)

Newspaper reports, law reports, court and police records and other commentary can help you to uncover information about historic cases.

The following books provide helpful research advice:

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.

Legal encyclopedias

Legal encyclopedias summarise the Commonwealth, state and local laws relating to a variety of topics, for example:

  • charities
  • superannuation
  • betting, gaming and lotteries
  • employment
  • human rights
  • criminal sentencing

They also reference major precedent cases which changed the way laws were interpreted.

Print copies of encyclopedias are kept up to date by the regular addition of looseleaf inserts.

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