Chapters

Case Law

Commonwealth and State case law can still be found in authorised and other law reports. The authorised reports of High Court and Federal Court decisions are the Commonwealth Law Reports (CLR) and Federal Court Reports (FCR). The Federal Law Reports (FLR) cover most important federal cases. A more convenient and up-to-date set of reports of federal court decisions is the Australian Law Reports (ALR).

The authorised reports for important Supreme Court decisions are the Tasmanian Reports (Tas R), but more comprehensive, convenient and up-to-date reports are in ‘Unreported Decisions of the Supreme Court’ series, which are available online. Each state has its own authorised reports: New South Wales Law Reports (NSWLR); Victorian Reports (VR); Queensland Reports (QdR); South Australian State Reports (SASR); and Western Australian Reports (WAR).

When referring to a particular case that is reported in one of the law reports, there is a traditionally accepted shorthand reference. For example: Commonwealth v Tasmania (1983) 158 CLR 1. This is the shorthand reference given to the High Court's judgment in the Tasmanian Dams Case. The reference tells us that the case was decided in 1983, is to be found in Volume 158 of the Commonwealth Law Reports at page 1. Similarly, BMG Resources Ltd v Municipality of Beaconsfield (1988) Tas R 142 is a shorthand reference which tells us that the case was decided in 1988 and is to be found in the Tasmania Reports of that year at page 142.

As with legislation, the more convenient way to research case law now is through the internet. The High Court, Federal Court, Family Court and State Supreme Courts all publish their decisions on the internet as do many tribunals. Austlii provides .rtf and .html files of many Australian court decisions. The menu bar on the left hand provides access to Commonwealth and state case law and legislation. Significant amounts of case law have been transferred to internet databases, although some case law is limited. However, the High Court decisions on the internet now go back as far as 1903. It is now also possible to cite cases from the internet. Thus a Tasmanian Supreme Court case is now cited as follows: Henderson v P & O Resorts Pty Ltd [1999] TASSC 58 - which tells us that the case was number 58 of the cases in which there was a written decision of the Supreme Court in 1999. Page references have been replaced by paragraph references to enable reference to cases on the internet.

Legislation

Legislation, both State and Commonwealth, can be purchased from the State and Commonwealth Government printers. This is still the official version of the legislation. However, major disadvantages of researching legislation in this way are the cost and the need to make sure that all the up-to-date amendments are included.

Access to current legislation on the intemet avoids both these problems. Anyone can make a search of the legislation to see what provisions are relevant and then download and print them out. Such legislation is almost always up to date to the day. Commonwealth and State legislation can be found on www.comlaw.gov.au and for only Tasmania on www.thelaw.tas.gov.au  It is best to search the latter site through the ‘Browse A-Z’ if you are looking for a particular Act, as the search functions are comprehensive in their search results rather than title specific.

In addition, government Departments may have specialised web sites dealing with the laws that govern their operations.

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