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Researching Case Law

Interpreting Case Citations video

This short video will explain the difference between unreported and reported judgments, and show you how to interpret the various parts of case citation to locate a case.

WARNING: This video was produced before the introduction of AGLC4. Unreported judgments are now covered in rule 2.3.1 Decisions with a Medium Neutral Citation. This rule no longer requires the full date of an unreported judgment to be included in a citation.

Case Law Lifecycle

When researching a case, you may find that it has multiple 'parallel citations'. This is because the judgment can go through a series of stages, as shown in the flowchart below. Note: not every cases will go through all of these stages, some may remain unreported judgments.

Because cases may appear in several law report series (depending on editorial interest and the importance of the case), the most authoritative version of the case should be cited.

Parallel citations are covered in AGLC4 rule 2.2.7.

Mabo v Queensland (No 2) (1991-1992) 175 CLR 1, 66 ALJR 408, 107 ALR 1, [1992] EOC 92-443, [1992] HCA 23

In this example, you would choose the CLR version of the case.

What is a law report?

Law reports were traditionally printed volumes that contained the text of cases that are heard before various courts and tribunals. Many of these law reports are now available online.

Some law reports are subject specific, while others deal only with cases heard in a particular court.

Not all cases will be reported in a law report. For example:

The reporting series All England Law Reports, which is a typical law reports series, will only report a case if:

  • It makes new law by dealing with a novel situation or by extending the application of existing principles.
  • It includes a modern judicial restatement of the established principles.
  • It clarifies conflicting decisions of lower courts.
  • It interprets legislation likely to have a wide application.
  • It interprets a commonly found clause, for example in a contract or a will.
  • It clarifies an important point of practice or procedure.

(Source: Robert Watts, Concise Legal Research (4th ed, 2001) 70.

Australian Authorised Law Reports

Each jurisdiction has one authorised law report, which has the approval of the judiciary. These are listed below.

*These citations should always be used when available.


High Court of Australia - Commonwealth Law Reports (CLR)

Federal Court of Australia - Federal Court Reports (FCR)

Australian Capital Territory Supreme Court - Australian Capital Territory Reports (ACTR)

New South Wales Supreme Court - New South Wales Law Reports (NSWLR)

Northern Territory Supreme Court - Northern Territory Law Reports (NTLR)

Queensland Supreme Court - Queensland Reports (Qd R; QR)

South Australian Supreme Court - South Australian State Reports (SASR)

Tasmanian Supreme Court - Tasmanian Reports (Tas R)

Victorian Supreme Court - Victorian Reports (VR)

Western Australian Supreme Court - Western Australian Reports (WAR)

Other law reports

The advantage of an non-authorised reports is that, since they are not checked by the court, they can be published more quickly.

These reports include many reports of cases which may be published later in an authorised series. Where a decision appears in both authorised and other law reports, the court will require the authorised citation to be provided.

Commonly used non-authorised Australian report series include:

Australian Law Reports (ALR)
Australian Law Journal Reports (ALJR)
Federal Law Reports (FLR)
Family Law Reports (Fam LR)
Northern Territory Reports (NTR)
Australian Industrial Law Reports (AILR)
Australian Criminal Reports (ACR)

Unreported judgments

It is not necessary to report every case that is heard. This can mean that a case is widely reported in the media but may not be published in a report series.

Cases which are not reported are known as unreported judgments and can be found via LexisNexis AU, Westlaw and LawCite, or obtained from the Registrar or the particular court where the case was heard.

Medium neutral citation is a standard method of citing an unreported judgment regardless of publisher or medium. See rule 2.2.2, Australian Guide to Legal Citation, (Melbourne University Law Review Association, 4th ed, 2018).

Can unreported judgments be used in assignments?

Unreported judgments can be cited in assignments. Do not use the unreported judgment, unless you have no alternative version. For example, if you wanted to write about a very recent case, it may not have gone through the publishing process and the unreported judgment is the only one available. As soon as the case is reported, you must no longer use the unreported version.