Skip to Main Content

What is case law?

"Over hundreds of years judges have been deciding cases. Their decisions have developed a body of legal principles known as 'common law' or 'case law' that is declared by judges.

When a case comes before a court, the parties to the action present the evidence they need to support their case. The judge listens to the evidence, decides what evidence is relevant and what facts have been proved, decides what law is relevant, and applies that law to the facts in making a decision which is binding on the parties.

The kind of case that a particular court decides depends on the jurisdiction of that court, in other words its authority to determine particular issues. The courts are arranged in a hierarchy, based on the kinds of issues being decided, with appeals from lower courts going to a higher court."

'Case Law' 2014, Legal Services Commission of South Australia.

Where can I find case law?

What are the authorised reports and their abbreviations?

For some law reports, the judge who wrote the decision also checks the details of the case before it is published. These cases are known as "authorised" reports. 

Cases from law reports where the judgment is not checked by the judge before publication can still be used in a court of law and in your assignment. These are commonly referred to as "unauthorised" reports.

What parts make up a case?

Read this document, The Anatomy of a Case, to understand the parts of a case:

Understanding a case is one of the most fundamental skills when studying law. The following document will help you break up the process of analysing a case into three separate parts:

  • Part 1: Describing the dispute (and its resolution or outcome) 
  • Part 2: Understanding the legal reasoning
  • Part 3: Critically analysing a case


IRAC (Issue, Rule, Application, Conclusion) is both a specific method of case analysis, or legal reasoning, and a useful framework for organising or writing out an analysis. 

Legal arguments are typically set out in a very similar way (whether called IRAC or some other method) which has come to be expected in most forms of legal writing. This involves: laying out the issue to be discussed, identifying the relevant legal rule, the application or analysis of material facts based on that rule, and the overall conclusion.

Issue Judges always summarise what the Issues in the case are
Rule The Judges then consider what Rule applies (i.e. which piece of legislation or common law practice applies to a particular case
Application The Judges then Apply the rule to the facts of the case
Conclusion The Judges then make a Conclusion on the issue


What makes up a case citation?


A word on dates

Note that square or round brackets around the date in citing a case are significant!

Rule 1: Use round brackets if the date is not necessary to locate the decision. Eg Mabo v Queensland (No.2) (1995) 172 CLR 1

Rule 2: Use square brackets when the date is necessary to locate the decision

  • Eg reported decision: Beattie v Ball [1999] 3 VR 1
  • Eg an unreported decision Commissioner of Police v Coroners Court of South Australia [2018] SASCFC 26 913 April 2018

Legal abbreviations and citations

If you cannot identify an abbreviation in a case explore the links below. The links will take you through to the abbreviation lists available online 

Review this case citation

Complete this interactive tutorial on finding case law

Navigate to finding australian case law interactive tutorial