Case law

4. Finding a case

Finding a known case

The known case approach relies on you having some details about the case you are looking at, either the case citation, the judge’s name, or the date of hearing, or some other combination of details.

If you have the case citation, locating the decision will be straightforward. You can use the A-Z list to:

  1. locate the law report abbreviation
  2. select the correct law report series
  3. select the online link or go to the call number in the Statutes and Reports section of the Library.

Keyword searching

Searching for cases by subject or topic can be difficult. It is almost always more efficient to identify relevant cases via secondary sources such as legal encyclopaedias, books, articles, and loose-leaf/commentary.

Catchwords and summary search

One of the most effective keyword searches you can try is the catchwords and summary search. By searching this field only, you will receive a smaller number of more relevant results.

The Catchwords are a series of keywords and phrases, separated by dashes, added to the headnote of the case by the law reporter. The purpose is to quickly describe the subject matter of the case, including relevant legislation and provisions. See these example catchwords from Cronin v Hamilton [1958] Qd R 24:

Criminal law — Justices — Assault — Circumstances of aggravation — Punishment — Forms of of conviction — Evidence — Sexual offences — Corroboration — The Criminal Code, ss. 19(8), 341-345 — The Justices Ac, 1886 to 1949, s. 211.

The digest or summary briefly summarises the matter and outlines the key holdings of the case.

Full-text searching

A full-text search looks for your keywords across the entire text of the case. This is the broadest search that you can do, and you will not only receive the largest result set of all of the searches, but highest number of irrelevant results. Consider using Boolean operators, proximity searching, and placing limitations on your results to get the best results.

Legislation and provision

Many legal databases allow you to search for cases that consider a particular Act/Regulation and section. The instructions below show you how to achieve this using the Advanced Search function, but you can obtain similar results using proximity searching (e.g. “Crimes Act 1958” w/s 25) in the primary search box.

In Lexis Advance:

  1. Select Advanced Search and Cases
  2. In Legislation Title field enter Act title
  3. In the Provision Number field enter the section number (you do not need to add a “s”)

In Westlaw AU:

  1. Select Cases from the left-hand side navigation bar
  2. In the Legislation Cited (Title) field, add the Act title
  3. In the Legislation Cited (Provision) field, add the section number (you do not need to add a “s”)

Consider re-ranking any results you have so that decisions from higher courts are at the top of your results.

Word and phrases judicially considered

Searching the words and phrases judicially considered field will find decisions where judges have discussed or defined particular words and phrases.

Find the PDF of Kable v Director of Public Prosecutions (NSW) (1996) 189 CLR 51. What is the final page number of the judgment?
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