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Law: Case Law: How to find cases

A Library Guide to support students of the University of Newcastle in finding Case Law.

Case Law Databases

Case citators are legal research tools that can be used to:

  • Find cases by citation, party names or topic
  • Track the history of a case and its treatment by the courts.
  • Determine if a case is still good law.
  • Identify secondary materials which discuss a case as well as legislation judicially considered.

Key Australian case citators

Key international case citators

Authorised law reports

Authorised law reports are the most authoritative source of law. These reports have been rigorously reviewed by the judge/s prior to publication and can take up to 12 months to be published. Most Australian state or territory jurisdictions have one authorised law report series aside from Western Australian, which has two. The Commonwealth also has two. If a case appears in an authorised law report series, this series should be cited in preference to any other reported version.

  • Examples: Commonwealth Law Reports and the New South Wales Law Reports.

Unauthorised law reports

Unauthorised law reports are a legitimate record of court decisions and are generally faster to publish as they have not been through the same rigorous review process as authorised reports. In these reports legal editors summarise the key points and assign catch words.

  • Examples: Australian Law Reports and the Federal Law Reports.

Australian authorised law reports

A reported version of a case should be cited in preference to an unreported version.

Where a case appears in an authorised report series, this series should be cited in preference to any other reported version.

UK authorised law reports

The Law Reports series below are the authorised reports for the UK and should be used in preference to all other UK law reports.

Access via ICLR online.

Admiralty and Ecclesiatical Cases (1865-75) A. & E.
Appeal Cases A.C.
Appeal Cases (1875-90) App. Cas.
Chancery Appeals (1865-75) Ch. App.
Chancery Division Ch.
Chancery Division (1875-90) Ch. D.
Common Pleas (1865-75) C.P.
Common Pleas Division (1865-80) C.P.D.
Crown Cases Reserved (1865-75) C.C.R.
English and Irish Appeals (1866-75) H.L.
Equity Cases (1865-75) Eq.
Exchequer (1865-75) Ex.
Exchequer Division (1875-80) Ex. D.
Family Division Fam.
Kings Bench K.B.
Privy Council (1865-75) P.C.
Probate P.
Probate and Divorce (1865-75) P. & D.
Probate Division (1875-90) P.D.
Queens Bench (1865-75 and post 1891) Q.B.
Queens Bench Division (1875-90) Q.B.D.

All decisions of the courts start as unreported judgments. The vast majority of cases will remain unreported, with only cases that change the law or of importance being published in law reports. It is possible for the unreported and reported versions of a case to differ significantly so avoid relying on unreported versions of judgements for important legal analysis or court submissions if there is reported version available. Unreported judgments are only available electronically.

Key Australian resources

Key international resources

Legal abbreviations are used extensively in law to identify legal publications and courts. Abbreviations are used for law reports, law journals, law courts and commonly used legal terms. Examples include CLR  for the Commonwealth Law Reports or ALJR for the Australian Law Journal Reports. Use the tools below to decipher legal abbreviations.

Understanding case citations

A case citation is a unique identifier that refers to a specific case. Understanding the components of a citation and how they are written will help you to locate the case referred to.

These are examples of reported case citations:

Project Blue Sky Inc v Australian Broadcasting Authority (1998) 194 CLR 355

R v Petronius-Kuff [1985] 3 NSWLR 178

The elements of these citations are:

Element Example Note
Case name

Project Blue Sky Inc v Australian Broadcasting Authority

R v Petronius-Kuff

The case name contains the parties involved in a case and is written in italics. In civil cases the "v" is pronounced as "and"; in criminal cases it is pronounced as "against".



The year of the judgement can be found in either round or square brackets. Round brackets indicate that law reports series the case was published in is arranged by volume number; square brackets indicate the law reports series is arranged by year.
Volume number



The reports series volume number that the case can be found in.

In a square bracket the volume number indicates the volume within that year.

Law report abbreviation             



The abbreviated title of the law reports series. In this case CLR stands for the Commonwealth Law Reports, and NSWLR stands for the New South Wales Law Reports. For more information see the "Legal Abbreviations" tab in the box located above.
Starting page



The number of the first page the case begins on in the law reports.


Unreported cases are not published in a law reports series. Due to this, they are cited differently from reported cases. 

Since 1998 unreported decisions have a medium neutral citation which includes a unique court identifier in abbreviated form.

  • Example: HCA for the High Court of Australia.

This is an example of an unreported case citation:

X v Twitter Inc [2017] NSWSC 1300 

The elements of unreported citations are:

Element Example Note
Case name

X v Twitter Inc                         

The case name contains the parties involved in a case and is written in italics. In civil cases the "v" is pronounced as "and"; in criminal cases it is pronounced as "against".


The year in which the case was decided. For unreported cases square brackets are used.
Court Identifier


The identifier of the court the case was heard in, usually in abbreviated format. In this case the court was the New South Wales Supreme Court.
Judgement number        


The judgement number for the year - this is allocated by the court.

The term "parallel citations" refers to when a case has multiple citations. Cases will likely have more than one citation as after a decision is made a citation is assigned to a case. but if the case is published elsewhere a new citation will be created to reflect where it was published.

If a case has been reported in a law reports series that citation should always take precedence over an unreported citation, and if a case has been published in an authorised report series that citation should take precedence over all others. You can use a case citator such as CaseBase or Westlaw AU KeyCite to check for parallel citations.

Let us know what you want

Is there anything more you would like us to include in this guide? Let us know by going to our Feedback page and we will do our very best to add the resources you want.

Search Tips

Finding cases by citation

  • The easiest way to find a case is by its citation.
  • The citation is a unique identifier for the case.
  • Thus you will only find one case with a correct citation.
  • Example: (1992) 175 CLR 1. 

Finding cases by party names

  • If you don't have the case citation then you will need to search using one or both of the party names.
  • Finding a case by party names is much less accurate and potentially harder to find.
  • Always check the spelling of names.
  • Be aware that some databases will write the party names differently.
  • Example: Jiminez v The Queen is used in KeyCite (Westlaw AU) whereas Jiminez v R is used in CaseBase and LawCite.

Finding cases on a topic

  • Start by defining and determining the key legal issues to work out your search terms.
  • Think of synonyms for the search terms. The right keywords will yield a relevant set of cases.
  • Use the connector AND to narrow a search; example: assault AND battery.
  • Use the connector OR to broaden a search; example: youth OR adolescent.
  • Apply search limits like jurisdiction or date or judge's name to create very specific search results. 

Your Subject Librarians

This guide has been created by University of Newcastle Librarians who work with your school to make sure you have access to the resources you need. The Librarians supporting the School of Law and Justice are:

Research Liaison Librarian

Jennie Skulander