A substantial amount of case law is now available on the Internet. The AustLII (Australasian Legal Information Institute) site at www.austlii.edu.au contains full text judgments from most jurisdictions of Australia. The cases on AustLII are ‘unreported judgments’, as opposed to ‘reported decisions, which are those published in law reports (see below). The depth of coverage of judgments on AustLII is dependent on what is actually provided by the courts.
Law reports are books which contain reports of cases of special interest. A large proportion of cases are not reported, but the actual percentage will vary according to jurisdiction (e.g. A high percentage of High Court decisions is reported, but low numbers of South Australian cases are reported). There are many different law report series, each having a different name, and containing the more important decisions of certain courts or on a particular area of the law.
Cases are always referred to (cited) in a particular way, for example unreported South Australian cases are cited like this: Crispin v SA Police  SASC 210, where Crispin and SA Police are the names of the parties to the case. SASC refers to the jurisdiction (South Australian Supreme Court), hence the citation refers to judgment number 210 of the SA Supreme Court for 2009.
Cases in law reports are cited in a similar manner. For example Brown v Dream Homes SA Pty Ltd (2008) 102 SASR 93. In this case the judgment can be found in volume 102 of the South Australian State Reports (abbreviated to SASR) at page 93.
Some cases are reported in more than one law report series, hence will have differing citations, for example:
- R v Ford 100 SASR 94 (Volume 100 of the South Australian State Reports at page 94)
- R v Ford 181 A Crim R 398 (Volume 181 of the Australian Criminal Reports at page 398)
Whenever the date of a case is cited in square brackets ( SASR), it shows that a series uses a sequence of yearly volumes rather than of numbered volumes.
Each case within a law report series contains the names of the parties (the litigants), followed by the headnote (which gives an edited summary of the case and the court's decision), then the judgment (the reasons for the decision of the judge or judges) and finally the order of the court.
Each law report series has one or more indexes which can be used to find the citation of a particular case within that series, and also to look up cases on certain subjects. There are other reference tools designed to assist with research over multiple law report series or jurisdictions. Consult a law librarian for instruction in the use of these reference tools.
The content of the Law Handbook is made available as a public service for information purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for legal advice. See Disclaimer for details. For free and confidential legal advice in South Australia call 1300 366 424.