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Law Search Guide: Search for Case Law

This guide will show you how to search a law topic using quick and simple methods.

How do I find cases?

If you are not sure what case you are looking for start with secondary sources to help you find relevant cases. 

You can find cases in different ways, including:   

Use the taps at the top of this box to see examples of using each of these methods. 

You can browse for cases by using the browsing function in case law databases, you can also use; 

  • Secondary sources to find important cases, see Search a new area of law for information on tools that you can use.
  • Use your textbook to summarise an area of law and guide you to relevant cases. 
  • Browse court websites for the latest cases, for example, the High Court of Australia, to the local courts such as the Northern Territory Local Court, both of which have browsing functions. 

If you have the citation of the case you are looking for, for example, from your textbook or unit material, you can search and find a case by using those details. 

This is what a case citation looks like: 








Type the citation after the case name into the search box of the case citators to find the case in law databases.

The case name are the parties that are involved in the case. Not all case names are unique, for example, the same parties may be involved in different matters before the court or in different stages of appeal. It is therefore important when searching by case name to know a little about the case you want to find, for example, what the case was about or the year?

You can search using keywords in case law databases. See this video on selecting keywords

For more information on selecting keywords and using Boolean see the Build a search strategy page. 

You will need to use specialised databases that contain case law. They include; 

Tell me more

  Tell me things I need to know about cases. 

Not every case that goes before a court will have a written decision. Some are written and made available on court websites. Some cases are selected to be published inside a report. A law report is a collection of cases. 

For example, High Court decisions are available on the court's website and are later reported in the Commonwealth Law Reports

A case citation are the numbers and letters that appear after the case name, these details tell you where the case was published and will help you find the case. 

Sometimes a case may be published is several different reports and this will lead to difference case citations (parallel citations). 

Authorised reports are decisions that have been approved by a judge, or their associate, and published in a specified report.  In Australian courts, it is standard practice to cite an authorised report over other versions, and it is a requirement of the AGLC when citing case law (Rule 2.3).  You can find a list of authorised reports on the Law Guide Case Law Page. Sometimes a case may not be published in an authorised report and you may have to cite another version see Rule 2.3 of the AGLC for specific examples. 

Once you find the case, you will need to see if it is still being used or if the law is current. Watch the video below that will help you find out if the case is still good law. 

Show me how

Try it yourself

Searching by citation.

You lecturer mentions a US case in reference to drug trafficking offenses in international jurisdictions. Using the citation off your lecture PowerPoint slides you want to quickly find the case and read about the case. 

  1. To find a case in the United States Supreme Court Reports, type the in the Citation Search box: 508 US 223, then click on Search.
  2. Open the case Smith v United States by clicking link on the green link under the case name.
  3. Click the LawCite logo at the top of the page to start a new search.



Searching using keywords.

For your assignment you have a problem-solving question where a child is injured on a slide during a school day, the local school that owns the slide asks for your advice on their duty of care for the child. You want to know if there have been any cases that are similar and will help you answer the question. 

  1. Select FirstPoint from the list of databases. 
  2. In the free text search box type negligence and playground and injury and school.
  3. Click on Search.
  4. Select the FirstPoint version of the first case. This page is called the digest and you can see an overview of, litigation history (if there is one) and cases applied and considered.
  5. Click on Related Documents on the top tabs to see relevant material on the case.



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