Case law

Research Guide for finding cases and law reports at the State Library of NSW and freely available online

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander visitors are kindly advised that this website includes images, sounds and names of people who have passed.

All users should be aware that some topics or historical content may be culturally sensitive, offensive or distressing, and that some images may contain nudity or are of people not yet identified. Certain words, terms or descriptions may reflect the author's/creator's attitude or that of the period in which they were written, but are now considered inappropriate in today's context.

Key to library resources

Access anywhere with a library card In the Library (or anywhere with a Library card for NSW residents)
Available to access in the library Only in the Library
Publicly available online Publicly available

Getting started: Where do I find cases?

This guide will help you find cases at the State Library and online.

Where do I find cases?

A decision of a court or a tribunal is often called a 'judgment', 'case', 'determination' or 'finding'.   In this guide we use the term 'case'. Law reports are published cases.  

Each court has one series of law reports that is authorised.

Where do I start?

If you know exactly what you are looking for use the menu on the left of this guide to help you find the law report that contains your case.

If you are not sure what you are looking for, try these strategies:

1. Find cases on a topic or subject

Case citators are useful if you are searching for a case by subject, rather than a specific case.  Type your search term(s) or phrase into the free text search.  Tip: 

You can narrow your search by

  • Jurisdiction (State or Court)
  • search in catchwords to narrow the search

2. Find a case by citation

The easiest way to find a case is by its citation - this is a unique identifier for the case. Sometimes, cases will have more than one citation, if they have been reported in different law report series.  You can use any of the citations given to find a copy of this case.

3. Find cases by name

Often, the only information you have about a case is one or both of the party names. There are a few tips when searching by party name:

  • Omit articles such as 'a', 'the' in names as well as terms such as 'Pty Ltd' in a company name
  • Beware of abbreviations - sometimes the case will be listed under the abbreviation, other times you will need to search for the full name
  • Generally you should omit the 'v' if searching for a full case name - check the database help section to find out the correct way to enter the names
  • Party names are not unique, so it is important to verify that the case is the correct one by checking other details such as date, judge, court, topic etc.

4. Find a case by popular name

Cases can become so famous that they are simply known by the name of one of the parties or their subject. For example,

  • the judgment of the High Court: Mabo and others v Queensland (No 2) (1992) 175 CLR 1 is often referred to as Mabo
  • The Commonwealth of Australia v Tasmania (1983) 158 CLR 1 heard in the High Court is simply referred to as The Tasmanian Dams Case.

Want more help?

Legal information at the Library

This Guide has been developed by staff of the Legal Information Access Centre (LIAC), State Library of NSW. The State Library holds an extensive collection of case law, legislation and looseleaf publications.

Using the Library

How courts make laws

Legislation is a major source of law. Courts are the other source.

In this 10 minutes video you'll also find out about the court hierarchy, and the courts' and tribunals' jurisdictions.

Developed by LIAC, State Library of NSW

Captioned version also available.

Finding your case

Use the following resources to help find your case:

Why can't I find a case?

Not all cases are available.  

Courts select and provide decisions for publication, usually on the grounds of legal significance.  

Just because a case is well known doesn't mean it has been published in print, or on the internet. 

Case citators at the State Library and online

You can use the following citators to help you find a case and use the tips for making the most of each citator:

If you want to find out more about citators, use this guideWhat is a case citator? produced by Macquarie University.