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Case Law Help

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Table of Contents

Introduction to Cases

The case law databases contain the decisions of judges in matters before a court or tribunal. In each decision the judge will go over the facts of the case, the relevant law in the circumstances, and then discuss how the law applies to the relevant facts. The judge may also refer to relevant legislation (laws or "acts" passed by parliament), regulations or international treaties. As a result, case law is often important in understanding how particular acts of parliament operate and apply day to day.

AustLII also publishes High Court transcripts. Transcripts of proceedings are verbatim accounts of statements given during the course of proceedings.

The AustLII case law databases include hypertext links to most relevant material. This generally includes the following:

These links are inserted automatically by our hypertext markup software, which uses complex heuristics to determine exactly which documents a citation might refer to. In most cases the links are correct, however sometimes errors are made due to the nature of English writing, and legal writing in particular. You should also bear in mind that links to acts go to the current version of the act, not necessarily the version of the act that applied to the facts of the case.

Using Cases

Each case is preceded by a number of links. The meaning of these is as follows:

A full list of the cases databases available from AustLII may be found on the AustLII Databases page.

Searching for Cases

Database Coverage

When searching for cases, particularly older cases, you should check the AustLII databases page to ensure that we hold cases from the court or tribunal and for the years in which you are interested. Alternatively, you can check the individual case database "index" or home pages for this information.

Database Last Updated Date

Each cases database includes a database "last updated" date on the database index page. This is the date that AustLII last updated the database and does not necessarily indicate currency. The database is updated from data received from the court or tribunal. Although some courts and tribunals send their data in batches, many provide their data as soon as it is available. Once AustLII has received the data, it is generally available on our website within 24 hours.

AustLII also provides a tool which will show you, at a glance, the realtime update status of all the cases databases which it provides along with the approximate update frequency for each database. See the Update Status for Case Law.

Recent Cases

If you are searching for a recent case or transcript, you should always also check the "recent cases" or "recent transcripts" page for each of the relevant cases databases. This is because there is a delay between when a case is first published in a database on AustLII and when it becomes searchable. The case database indexes need to be rebuilt for a case to be searchable and this is done at least once every day.

By Party Name

Autosearch: When searching for a case by party names using the auto-search search type, start with the most general search and then, if necessary, refine it by making it more specific. For example, if you were searching for the case named "Peter Tao Zhu v. The Treasurer of the State of New South Wales", you should start with a search for "Zhu v Treasurer". This search returns the relevant results, whereas a search for the full names of the parties would fail because the Court has abbreviated the first party's name to just the surname.

Boolean: When searching for case names using the boolean search type, you can use the near operator to find cases involving two parties. For example, to find cases where John Geoffrey Smith sued (or was sued by) Malcolm Bartholemew Brown, you would start with the more general search and type: smith near brown. Again, you could make this more specific if necessary, but it is always best to start with a general search using just the parties' surnames because Courts sometimes abbreviate parties' names to just the surname or just the initials plus surname. Additionally, in cases which have many parties, Courts sometimes abbreviate the case name to, for example, Smith and Anor v Brown & Ors - where Anor means Another and Ors means Others.

References to cases

When searching for cases or articles which contain a reference to case name, do not use the autosearch method as this restricts the search to documents with the case name in their title. Instead, use a boolean search and a proximity operator (eg near, w/n). If you were searching for other cases and articles which refer to Mabo v Queensland, then you could use the following search: Mabo w/2 Queensland (Mabo within 2 words of Queensland).

By Date

When searching using the Boolean search type, you can limit the search results by year by searching the title field for the case name and for the year within 10 words of the title like this:

title(Minister for Immigration w/10 2006)

For cases, the date in the title is usually the date on which the decision was handed down.

Printing Cases

To print a case you can either use the "File > Print" function of your web browser, or click the [Download] link at the top of the page to get the RTF or ASCII version (where available) of the case, open it in your favourite word processor, and print it from there. If the page says that "No downloadable files are available" this means that AustLII does not have a downloadable version of the item.

To eliminate the search term highlighting so that you can print a decision which you found by using the AustLII search engine, click the [No Context] link at the top of the page. You should now be looking at the decision without any search term highlighting and can print it.

About the Cases Markup

Cases are "marked up" (ie hypertext links inserted) on a massively automated basis. We are constantly improving this process to add functionality. If you have suggestions, these are more than welcome. Please bear in mind that the mark up process is essentially heuristic in nature - that is, it is designed to make the occasional mistake. If you think that you can suggest a general approach to better taking into account the salient features which are inherent in most case law databases, please send us feedback.

Reproduction of Cases

All cases and related data on the AustLII site is published with the permission of the relevant copyright holder. AustLII cannot give you permission to reproduce the cases on the AustLII site. To reproduce any cases beyond what is permitted by the Copyright Act 1968, you should contact the relevant copyright holder to obtain permission. Details to assist you to do this are provided at the bottom of each database index page (eg see the Federal Court database index page).

Additionally, while AustLII is proudly a "free to air" service, nonetheless our detailed markup of legislation is subject to copyright and cannot be copied. The markup is absolutely not in the public domain as far as any sort of reproduction is concerned. Please see AustLII's usage policy for full details.

Copyright permission requests in respect of the AustLII markup and other AustLII-created content should be made through AustLII Feedback.

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