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Case Law: Searching for Australian Cases

This is a study guide designed to help you find legal cases.

Case citators


Case Citators are law databases that help you find:

  • the citation to a case,
  • the full text of the judgment in a case,
  • cases and legislation cited in a case, and
  • subsequent legal history of a case and which cases have relied on it.

Case Citators may also refer you to journal articles about a case, and other related secondary materials such as encyclopedia entries.

There are three recommended case citators available through UTS Library:

You might be asking, "why do I need to know how to search three citators? Can't you just show me how to search the best one?"

The answer is that these three citators have their strengths and weaknesses. To do a comprehensive search for Australian cases you need to know how to search all three of them.

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Look at the table below to determine which case citator is best for the case you are looking for:

Searching case citators

Lexis Advance Pacific is a database that covers a wide range of legal resources. CaseBase is the case citator accessed through Lexis Advance Pacific.

CaseBase provides citation information and full text reports for many Australian and overseas cases, as well as links to journal articles and other secondary materials.

Watch this video to find out how you can search Lexis Advance Pacific (CaseBase) to find cases:

Westlaw AU is another popular database to find legal resources. KeyCite is the case citator accessed through Westlaw AU.

KeyCite provides case citation information, and summaries of important cases and helps to find similar and related cases. A notable feature of KeyCite is the Key Number System, where all case material is grouped into a detailed classification scheme that allows easy browsing for cases in the same category.

Watch the videos linked below for further details on using Westlaw.

AustLII is a free website for Australian legal resources. LawCite is the case citator accessed through AustLII.

LawCite contains indexed cases and journal articles. Notably, it has links to medium neutral case reports for all higher courts and some lower courts. It also provides full-text access to many Australian Law Review articles and Australian Law Reform Commission Reports.

Watch this video to find out how you can search AustLII to find cases:

Interpreting your results

Now that you have found your case report in Lexis Advance Pacific (CaseBase), this video will explain how to locate useful information about it:

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  • The full text of CLR is not available in Lexis Advance Pacific but can be found in Westlaw AU. This is indicated by the absence of a hyperlink to the CLR in the list of citations under the case title.

  • In Lexis Advance Pacific, the list of citations under the case title is arranged in order of authority from left to right.

  • The full text for most State authorised series, e.g. NSWLR, is available in Lexis Advance Pacific.

  • Editors of Lexis Advance Pacific assign Signals and Annotations to cases within tables in CaseBase:

    • The 'signals' next to each of the cases mentioned in a case report indicate whether the case decision has received positive, negative, cautionary or neutral treatment in subsequent judgments.

    • 'Annotations' indicate whether the corresponding case was approved, followed, overruled or questioned by the judges of the case you are researching.

    • For a detailed explanation of signals and annotations, see the 'CaseBase Signal Help' link on the right-hand side of Lexis Advance Pacific's case search screen (also linked below). 

Watch the videos below for further details on interpreting search results in Westlaw.

Now that you have found your case report in AustLII (LawCite), this video will explain how to locate useful information about it:

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  • The Citations column contains all known citations for a case or article. Clicking on any blue linked citations will bring up the full-text of the case or article. You can also hover over a citation to see what it is (i.e. which journal or series of law reports). The order of citations is medium neutral citation first (if any), authorised citation next (if any) and then citations ordered by how often they have been referenced.

  • Flags indicate the nationality of the decision or article. It is intended to make it easy to see at a glance where the source originates from.

  • Dates refer to the date that a decision was handed down. A year is the year that a decision or journal article was first published.

  • Where the case or article is frequently cited, a number of "stars" will appear. The greater the number of stars, the greater the popularity of a case or article. Each star indicates approximately 50 citations.

  • The information in AustLII is generally machine-generated and has not been checked by human editors. Compare Lexis Advance Pacific 'Signals' and Westlaw 'status symbols'.

  • Further explanation of information can be found on 'LawCite Case and Article Help' page (see below).

Review your results


Not all the information you get from a search will be useful. 

If your results are not relevant, try reviewing your search strategy by asking the following questions:

  • What exactly are you looking for?
  • Are you looking in the most appropriate resource?
  • What type of information were you expecting?
  • Do you need subsequent cases? Do any of the subsequent cases change the validity of your case?
  • Do you need authorised reports? Are they available?
  • Do you need more information to understand your cases? Eg commentary, journal articles, entries in legal encyclopaedias.
  • Do you need to find other cases on the same legal topic?