This page considers 'sources of the law', ie online and
offline collections of statutes and court reports.
It covers -
standard reference work for citations is Australian
Guide to Legal Citation 2 ed (Melbourne: Melbourne
Uni Law Review Association 2002).
statutes and delegated legislation
Statute law is law made by legislatures,
often characterised as 'Acts of Parliament'.
Specialists often differentiate between statutes or primary
legislation (the text of which has been directly considered
by the particular legislature and specifically approved
by that legislature) and 'secondary' or 'delegated' legislation.
Secondary legislation is an administrative convenience,
reliant for its authority on primary legislation. It may
comprise regulations, ordinances, rules, by-laws and orders-in-council.
Australian statutes typically comprise the following elements
Title of the Act
and Number of the Act (or Reprint No)
of Assent (or Reprint Date)
of Chapters, Parts, Divisions and Subdivisions
(and sub-sections and paragraphs)
History (identifying amendments)
interpretation can often be assisted through scrutiny
of the associated Second Reading Speech (ie an explanation
made in Parliament and available in the Hansard)
and Explanatory Memorandum or Explanatory Statement for
the particular statute.
Statutes are typically cited using the short title (including
the year of enactment), the jurisdiction
(in brackets) and specific sections/subsections, eg -
Interpretation Act 1901 (Cth)
Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth)
Privy Council (Limitation of Appeals) Act 1968
Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) s19A
Ex-Servicemen's Badges Act 1967 (Tas) s3
law in Australia is Crown
Copyright, with legislatures generally taking a relaxed
attitude to reproduction on a commercial or noncommercial
Court reports (aka case reports) are written records of
the decisions by the magistrate or judge/s in cases heard
by those courts. In essence a particular report provides
an indication of what decision was made (eg a defendant
was found guilty of a crime) and the basis for that decision
(eg the judge heard particular arguments, was presented
with particular evidence, applied relevant statute law
or relied on precedent in common law).
The decisions of all major courts and many minor courts
are published as collections that have an official or
quasi-official status (ie are relied on by lawyers and
by courts). That publication may be undertaken on a commercial
or not-for-profit basis, with the publisher 'adding value'
through inclusion of cross-references, summaries or keywords
(typically in the 'headnotes' at the beginning of the
reports), paragraph numbering and so forth.
It is important to recognise that not all decisions are
reported. A report does not provide a transcript of everything
that was said and all documentation that was submitted
by lawyers during the course of a trial.
A court report will typically provide the reader with
citation details, including the name of the court, the
year of the decision, the name of the parties
and date of the hearing and judgment
of the judge/s or magistrate
concise prose summary in a headnote at the beginning
of the report
of barristers representing the parties
statement of the reasons for the court's decision
of statutes and cases relied upon by the court in making
statement of any formal order by the court (eg that
specific damages and costs were awarded)
collections for Australian law are -
- Commonwealth Law Reports
- Australian Law Reports
Crim R - Australian Crim Reports
- Australian Family Law Cases
LR - Family Law Reports
- Federal Court Reports
- Federal Law Reports
- Australian Industrial Law Reports
- Australian Tax Cases
- New South Wales Law Reports
(NSW) - NSW State Reports
R - Queensland Law Reports
- South Australian State Reports
R - Tasmanian Reports
- Victorian Reports
- Western Australian Reports
reports were traditionally published in series of printed
volumes, typically in chrological order and with a volume
number. Most are now available online; major databases
are discussed below.
Individual cases may be reported in one or more reports.
They are typically cited using the -
the case name comprising identification of the plaintiff/prosecutor,
a 'v' (read as 'and' in civil cases or 'against' in criminal
cases) and the defendant name, eg
v The Queen (1992) 177 CLR 292
James Hardie & Co Pty Ltd v Hall (1998)
43 NSWLR 544
Australian legal databases
For Australia a jump-off point is AustLII,
a national not-for-profit legal database covering legislation,
court and tribunal decisions and some journals.
"the internet legal practice of the Communications Law
Centre", is of lesser value.
AustLII spawned -
British & Irish Legal Information Institute (Bailii)
site, which now covers all primary legal material from
Britain and Ireland that is freely available to the
public (eg UK statutes from 1988 to 2001)
the Hong Kong Legal Information Institute (HKLII)
site, with Judgments (approximately 10,000 in full text)
from the Court of Final Appeal, Court of Appeal, Court
of First Instance, District Court, Family Court and
Lands Tribunal; Practice Directions; current Ordinances;
Domain name arbitration decisions by the Hong Kong International
Arbitration Centre and the Hong Kong Treaties Index.
For the US the WashLaw
Web and FeedLaw
are of particular value.
In September 2002 the New Zealand government belatedly
launched a legislation site.
Salient enactments regarding statutory interpretation
Interpretation Act 1901 (Cth) | here
Act 2001 (ACT) | here
Interpretation Act 1987 (NSW) | here
Interpretation Act (NT) | here
Interpretation Act 1954 (Qld) | here
Interpretation Act 1915 (SA) | here
Interpretation Act 1931 (Tas) | here
Interpretation of Legislation Act 1984 (Vic) |
Interpretation Act 1984 (WA) | here
works include Statutory Interpretation in Australia
(Chatswood: Butterworths 2001) by Dennis Pearce &
Robert Geddes, Legislation and statutory interpretation
(Chatswood: Butterworths 2008) by Kath Hall & Claire
Among works on Explanatory Memoranda see ''Was there an
EM?': explanatory memoranda and explanatory statements
in the Commonwealth Parliament' (Canberra: Australian
Parliament 2005) by Patrick O'Neill, online here.