Law reports

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Law reports contain the more important cases decided by the courts. There are many different series of law reports, each one reporting decisions of different courts in different states and countries.

When a reported case is referred to in books, a traditionally accepted shorthand reference will be used: for example, Commonwealth v Anderson(1960) 105 CLR 303; Commonwealth v Anderson[1961] ALR 354. This case has been reported in two law report series: the Commonwealth Law Reports(CLR) and the Australian Law Reports(ALR). In the above examples, the person commencing the action is the Commonwealth and the person defending the action is Anderson. In the first series of reports, (1960) is the year in which the decision was handed down and 105 is the volume reference. In the second, [1961] is the volume reference. The final figure in both cases is the page number the judgement starts at in that volume.

Most law reports contain the names of the parties to the dispute, a summary at the front of the case which lists the facts involved and the court’s decisions (called the headnote), written judgements, word for word, of the judges, including their reasons for deciding as they did, and the order of the court.

If you are looking for cases on a particular topic, as opposed to a particular case, you can use the Australian Legal Monthly Digester Australian Current Law (both available online). These books are arranged under topics and list relevant cases and where to find them. Comprehensive databases are also becoming increasingly available. Most of the courts now also have websites and you are often able to access the judges’ decisions. For example: