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Researching Case Law

Case law overview

Courts interpret and enforce laws made by Parliament

When hearing cases, judges are called upon to decide the meaning of a rule of law. Sometimes judges are involved in a process of interpreting the law. In this situation, the judge applies the meaning of the rule of law as stated in the legislation, or a judicial precedent established by a case from a previous court.

Judges are also involved in making new law

If a judge does not agree that the meaning of a rule of law applied in a previous case should be applied to the case being heard, they will deliver a new meaning of the rule in order to decide the case.

Case law can therefore be described as the principle of law arising from the decisions, and reasons for those decisions, made by judges in courts (state, territory and federal). These decisions, known as judgments, were first recorded in printed publications known as law reports.

Law reports in the traditional sense are printed volumes that contain the text of cases that are heard before various courts and tribunals. Law reports are now available in paper, elecotnric/online, or both

[Square] and (round) brackets

Why do some case citations contain square brackets [ ] and others round brackets ( ) Is there a difference?
Yes! They determine how the case is filed.

Note: to prevent confusion, transcribe case details exactly as they are provided from your source.

Square brackets [ ] enclosed around a year of a case citation indicates that the year is more important than the volume number when retrieving the case.

Lansell v Lansell [1963] VR 102

This case can be found in the 1963 volume of the Victorian Reports.  If more than one volume is published in that year, the square brackets will followed by a sequential number.

Square brackets are always used when you are referring to an unreported judgment.

Round brackets ( ) enclosed around a year of a case citation indicates that the volume number is more important than the year.

Lange v Australian Broadcasting Commission (1997) 189 CLR 520

This case can be found in volume 189 of the Commonwealth Law Reports which was published in 1997.

Legal Referencing

Correct referencing is required while you are researching law and completing law assignments.  Deakin University, School of Law requires that you comply with the Australian Guide to Legal Citation (4th edition, 2018) when citing references.  This guide is available in the library and online.


Definitions sourced from Peter Butt (ed), LexisNexis Concise Australian Legal Dictionary (LexisNexis Butterworths, 4th ed, 2011)

ex parte from one side; an application by a non-party in the context of existing proceedings
r Regina; the Queen; the theoretical prosecutor in a criminal prosecution
re  in the matter (of); frequently used to designate proceedings in which there is only one party
v referred to as "and" in civil cases and "against" in criminal cases