Case law

2. How cases are published

It is helpful to know how judgments are published in Australia when undertaking research in case law.

Which courts produce written decisions?

Not all courts produce written decisions. Generally speaking though, most federal courts will produce and publish written decisions. In state court hierarchies, superior courts (Supreme Courts and Courts of Appeal) and intermediate courts (District Courts or County Courts) will also produce and publish written decisions. However, matters heard in the Magistrates Courts will rarely lead to a written decision.

Jury trials do not necessarily result in a written decision. However, following the accused pleading guilty, or the jury finding the accused guilty at trial, there will be a sentencing hearing. Many courts make these sentencing remarks available to the public.

Unreported and reported judgments

Almost all decisions, except those that are suppressed on the grounds of privacy or public-interest, are initially published online as unreported judgments. From 1992 onwards, Australian courts have adopted a standardised system of citation known as 'medium neutral citation' for unreported judgments.

Of those, judgments deemed to be significant are reported and published in law reports series. These are called reported judgments or reported decisions. In order to be reported a judgment must:

  • raise significant points of law
  • introduce a new principle of law
  • significantly modify an existing principle of law
  • settle a question of law
  • apply an established principle in a new area
  • define or interpret legislation or legal terms, or is particularly instructive.

Authorised reports

All Australian jurisdictions have a set of official or 'authorised' law reports. These are listed in the table. Judgments published in authorised reports are checked by a Judge (or Judge's associate) prior to publication.

Which version of the judgment should you use?

It is possible that a decision has been published multiple times. First, in unreported format, then in an unauthorised law report series, and finally in an authorised law report series. Commonwealth v Tasmania, an important case about the balance of powers between the Commonwealth and the states, was reported  (published) in the Commonwealth Law Reports, Australian Law Journal Reports, Australian Law Reports. So which version should you cite in your assignments?

In general, the rule is, whether citing a case in your assignment or using it in court, it is important to always use the authorised version of the case where possible. A number of courts have formalised this preference by issuing practice directions.

Australia

Court Law report abbreviation

Full title

High Court of Australia

CLR

Commonwealth Law Reports

Federal Court of Australia

FCR

Federal Court Reports

Supreme Court of the Australian Capital Territory

ACTLR

Australian Capital Territory Law Reports (2007-onwards)

Supreme Court of New South Wales

NSWLR

New South Wales Law Reports (1971-onwards)

Supreme Court of the Northern Territory 

NTLR

Northern Territory Law Reports (1991-onwards)

Supreme Court of Queensland

QR (formerly Qd R)

Queensland Reports (1959-onwards)

Supreme Court of South Australia

SASR

South Australian State Reports (1921-onwards)

Supreme Court of Tasmania

Tas R

Tasmanian Reports (1979-onwards)

Supreme Court of Victoria

VR

Victorian Reports (1957-onwards)

Supreme Court of Western Australia

WAR

Western Australian Reports (1960-onwards)

Canada

Court Law report abbreviation Full title

Supreme Court of Canada

SCR

Canada Supreme Court Reports

Federal Court Canada

FC

Canada Federal Court Reports

New Zealand

Court Law report abbreviation Full title

Supreme Court of New Zealand
Privy Council
Court of Appeal
High Court

NZLR

New Zealand Law Reports (1881-onwards)

United Kingdom

Court Law report abbreviation Full title

Supreme Court
House of Lords
Privy Council

AC

Law Reports, Appeal Cases

High Court (Chancery Division)

Ch

Law Reports, Chancery Division

High Court (Family Division)

Fam

Law Reports, Family Division

High Court (Probate, Divorce and Admiralty Division)

P

Law Reports, Probate

High Court (Queen's Bench Division)

QB

Law Reports, Queen's Bench

United States

Court Law report abbreviation Full title

United States Supreme Court

US

United States Reports

United States Court of Appeal

F

Federal Reporter

F 2d

Federal Reporter, 2nd Series

United States District Court

F Supp

Federal Supplement

United States District Court

FRD

Federal Rules Decisions

What is the current authorised report series of the Supreme Court of Victoria?
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