When researching the law you need to:

Find the law

As a general rule, proceeding from general information (secondary sources) to more specific, authoritative information (primary sources) is a good approach to use.

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Secondary sources of law provide commentary and background information on the primary sources of law or assist in locating the law. They may provide you with a quick overview or an in-depth analysis of the general law relating to a topic, with references to leading cases or relevant legislation. They include:   

  • Legal dictionaries
  • Legal encyclopaedias
  • Books
  • Journal articles
  • Looseleaf services
  • Law reform resources

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Primary sources of law are the authoritative sources of law as made by law making bodies. They include:

  • Case Law — also known as Common Law or Judge-made Law
  • Legislation — includes Acts of Parliament (or Statutes) and subordinate legislation (or delegated legislation).

Read and evaluate

Acts and cases can be difficult to interpret. Remember that secondary sources such as journal articles and textbooks, and related materials (such as bills, second reading speeches, and explanatory memoranda) may help you further develop your understanding of the law.

Learning how to critically evaluate is an essential skill for law students. You will require extensive knowledge and understanding of the topic and the legal issues involved to write analytically. Detailed analysis of the law is required to critically examine and synthesise opinions, arguments, facts and evidence and to formulate an argument which relates back to your particular problem or scenario.

Update the law

It is important to ensure that any cases or statutes you refer to are still considered "good law".

  • Has the Act been repealed or amended recently?
  • Has the section of the Act you are looking at been judicially considered?
  • How have subsequent cases dealt with the case you are looking at? Have they doubted, disapproved, criticised, overruled, distinguished, or not followed the decision?

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