11 How Cases are Published

It is helpful to know how judgments are published in Australia when undertaking research in case law.

Which courts produce written decisions?

Not all courts produce written decisions. Generally speaking, most federal courts will produce and publish written decisions. In state court hierarchies, superior courts (Supreme Courts and Courts of Appeal) and intermediate courts (District Courts or County Courts) will also produce and publish written decisions. However, matters heard in the Magistrates or Local Courts will rarely lead to a written decision.

Jury trials do not necessarily result in a written decision. However, following the accused pleading guilty, or the jury finding the accused guilty at trial, there will be a sentencing hearing. Many courts make these sentencing remarks available to the public.

Unreported and reported judgments

Almost all decisions, except those that are suppressed on the grounds of privacy or public interest, are initially published online on court websites or on AustLII as unreported judgments. From 1992 onwards, Australian courts adopted a standardised system of citation known as ‘medium neutral citation’ for unreported judgments.

Of those, judgments deemed to be significant are reported and published in law reports series. These are called reported judgments or reported decisions. To be reported, a judgment should do one or more of the following:

  • raise significant points of law
  • introduce a new principle of law
  • significantly modify an existing principle of law
  • settle a question of law
  • apply an established principle in a new area
  • define or interpret legislation or legal terms or be particularly instructive.

Authorised reports

All Australian jurisdictions have a set of official or ‘authorised’ law reports. These are listed in Table 5 below. Judgments published in authorised reports are checked by a Judge (or Judge’s associate) prior to publication.

Which version of the judgment should be used?

It is possible that a decision has been published multiple times. First, in unreported format, then sometimes in an unauthorised law report series, and finally in an authorised law report series. Commonwealth v Tasmania, an important case about the balance of powers between the Commonwealth and the states, exists in unreported format and was reported (published) in the Commonwealth Law Reports, Australian Law Reports, and Australian Law Journal Reports. Reports found in the unauthorised report series are referred to as parallel citations.

Table 4: Parallel citations for a case
Commonwealth v Tasmania [1983] HCA 21 Unreported (medium neutral citation)
(1983) 158 CLR 1 Authorised law report series
(1983) 46 ALR 625 Unauthorised law report series
(1983) 57 ALJR 450 Unauthorised law report series

The general rule is, whether citing a case in your assignment or using it in court, it is important to always use the authorised version of the case where possible. The fourth edition of the Australian Guide to Legal Citation recommends this in rule 2.2.2.

Australia – Current list of Authorised Reports

Table 5: Current list of Authorised reports in Australia
Court Law report abbreviation Full title
High Court of Australia CLR Commonwealth Law Reports
Federal Court of Australia FCR Federal Court Reports
Supreme Court of the Australian Capital Territory ACTLR Australian Capital Territory Law Reports (2007-onwards)
Supreme Court of New South Wales NSWLR New South Wales Law Reports (1971-onwards)
Supreme Court of the Northern Territory NTLR Northern Territory Law Reports (1991-onwards)
Supreme Court of Queensland QR (formerly Qd R) Queensland Reports (1959-onwards)
Supreme Court of South Australia SASR South Australian State Reports (1921-onwards)
Supreme Court of Tasmania Tas R Tasmanian Reports (1979-onwards)
Supreme Court of Victoria VR Victorian Reports (1957-onwards)
Supreme Court of Western Australia WAR Western Australian Reports (1960-onwards)

United Kingdom – Authorised Reports

Table 6: Authorised reports in the United Kingdom
Court Law report abbreviation Full title
Supreme Court
House of Lords
Privy Council
AC Law Reports, Appeal Cases
High Court (Chancery Division) Ch Law Reports, Chancery Division
High Court (Family Division) Fam Law Reports, Family Division
High Court (Probate, Divorce and Admiralty Division) P Law Reports, Probate
High Court (King’s Bench Division) KB Law Reports, King’s Bench


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Legal Research Skills: An Australian Law Guide: 2024 JCU Edition Copyright © 2024 by James Cook University is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.