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Law: Secondary Sources: Law secondary sources

A Library Guide to support students of the University of Newcastle in finding law secondary sources.

Secondary sources

Secondary sources of law describe, summarise, explain, analyse or critique the law and are collectively referred to as legal commentary. They can assist in locating and understanding the relevant primary sources of law by providing references to leading cases and key legislation.

  • Examples: textbooks, case citators, statute annotators, legal dictionaries & encyclopaedias, journal articles and newspaper articles. 

Key Australian resources

Key international resources

Finding legal definitions is a key part of legal research because:

  • It is important to distinguish between words defined in statutes and those defined in common law.
  • If there is no statutory definition of a word or phrase, you will need to check to see if it has received judicial consideration.
  • The courts may have interpreted undefined words or phrases in legislation.

Use a legal dictionary to:

  • Search for the meaning of legal words or phrases.
  • Identify relevant terms in a particular area of law, and locate words and phrases judicially considered in legislation or case law. 

Use a legal encyclopaedia to:

  • Establish a good starting point to find primary sources on a legal topic.
  • Find an overview of the key legal principles, the historical background and relevant cases and legislation.
  • Compare coverage and currency of topic entries in both encyclopedias, Laws of Australia and Halsbury's Laws of Australia.

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.

Subject specific legal commentary was previously published in printed format as looseleaf services. It provides up to date information on specialised areas of law, may link directly to relevant case law and legislation, and provides a practical focus as they are published for the professional practitioner market. They are not academic textbooks but are useful to understand how the law is applied in practice. Titles are updated regularly to reflect the latest developments in case law and legislation making them more up to date than textbooks and legal encyclopaedias. 

Key Australian resources

Key international resources

Media resources are useful for legal research as proposed changes to legislation and court cases often attract media attention. They are often discussed in media resources before they appear in law related databases.

Key Australian resources

Key international resources

Case citators are legal research tools that can be used to Identify secondary materials which discuss a case.

Key Australian case citators

Key international case citators

An annotator is a secondary source containing critical commentary and explanatory notes on legislation and/or cases.

What is a statutes annotator?

  • A statutes annotator not only contains the text of the relevant statute but may also include the history of a provision, commentary explaining the operation of the statutory provision and references to relevant case law and journal articles.

Key Australian resources

Key international resources

Parliamentary papers are extrinsic materials which may used to assist in the interpretation of legislation. They include:

Explanatory memoranda (EM)

  • Also called an explanatory note.
  • A clause by clause outline of a Bill in plain English.
  • Assists to understand the proposed legislation, its objectives and the detailed operation of a Bill. 

Second Reading Speech (2RS)

  • Contains an explanation of the purpose or the rationale of a Bill.


  • The official report of the debates and proceedings of Parliament. 

Parliamentary Committee Reports 

  • It is sometimes necessary to refer a Bill to a committee which specialises in the subject area of a Bill.
  • The advisory report can provide valuable information about historical legislative changes.

Key Australian resources

Key international resources

A Law Reform Commission discussion paper or report provides a comprehensive analysis of the present laws as well as coverage of its historical development and an extensive examination of proposed reforms. Key case law, legislation and journal articles will be referenced allowing further insight into the topic.

Key Australian resources

Key international resources

Citing secondary sources in AGLC4 style

AGLC Style

The Newcastle Law School requires work to be cited using the Australian Guide to Legal Citation 4th edition (AGLC4). For information on how to cite secondary source please use our library guide.

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.

Need to research other discipline areas?

You may need to find resources from a variety of subject areas to research your topic. The following databases cover a range of disciplines and include Australian and international content:

Try using the following Subject Resource Guides to find resources that may not be held within legal databases:

Australian Indigenous Studies


Sociology, Anthropology, Philosophy and Religion

Politics and International Relations

Community Services

Business and Entrepreneurship

All other Subject Resource Guides can be found here.

Key law eBook collections

Your Subject Librarians

This guide has been created by University of Newcastle Librarians who work with your schools 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