Researching Australian Law

Updated March 2009. The authors welcome suggestions for the improvement of this guide, especially with reference to sources that may have been overlooked.

Table of Contents


Parliaments and Laws

Finding Australian Legislation

Courts and Judgments

Finding Australian Cases


Secondary Sources

Journal Literature

Legal Encyclopedias

Law Reform

Government Information



Legal Research Guides


Current Awareness

Discussion Lists

Information Brokerage

Major Texts

If you only remember one source for Australian legal research, make itAustLII (the Australasian Legal Information Institute).


The Commonwealth of Australia is a common law jurisdiction; a federation within the British Commonwealth, with Queen Elizabeth II as its head of state. The Queen is represented, in Australia, by a Governor-General at the national level, and in each of the six states by a Governor. The Australian Constitution, embodying the doctrine of separation of powers, prescribes the authority of the executive, legislative and judicial arms of government. It was enacted (by a British Act of Parliament) in 1901 and the then separate colonies were united as states of one country. As well as the six states there are three self-governing territories (one of them, the Australian Capital Territory, is the site of the federal seat of government, Canberra) and a number of external territories – islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, and the Australian Antarctic Territory1.

Australia was first settled as a British penal colony in 1788, and, although there was a widespread indigenous population, was deemed “terra nullius” (empty land), a finding only overturned in 1992 by the famous land rights decision of the High Court of Australia in Mabo2. Early confusion about the date of reception of English law was resolved by an Imperial Statute holding that it was received into the colony of New South Wales and Van Dieman’s Land on 25 July 1828.3 This is therefore the date of reception for Queensland, Victoria and Tasmania, which territories were originally part of that huge colony. Western Australia and South Australia, separately established colonies, have dates of 1829 and 1836 respectively for reception of English law.

It is important to an understanding of the federal nature of Australia to know that each of the colonies had their own constitutions and had been enacting laws long before Federation. Under the Federal compact they had to give up certain rights and powers to the new Federal (Commonwealth) Government, while continuing to exercise others. The Constitution enumerates the legislative powers of the Commonwealth Government with the residue being left to the States (unless a matter is prohibited elsewhere in the Constitution), although the Federal Government has legislated for areas not specifically included in its powers by making use of ‘tied grants’ to state governments (i.e. grants for specific purposes). There is a good deal of potential for overlap in the state and federal jurisdictions but this is resolved by s.109 of the Constitution which provides that, in cases of conflict, where the Commonwealth enacts a law in an area covered by a state, that the state law is inoperative to the extent that it is inconsistent, as long as the Commonwealth law exists. Although three Australian territories also have self government, their laws may be disallowed by the Federal Parliament.4

The Australian Constitution was agreed after being debated in a series of national conventions that took place during the 1890s. The record of these Convention Debates is the principal primary source for assistance in interpretation of the Constitution and determination of the founders’ intent. They have been reprinted a number of times and are now available in full text, through the web site of the Australian Parliament. Many earlier primary documents concerned with the expanding settlement of the colonies during the 18th and 19th centuries, are contained in two multi-volume series, Historical Records of Australia and Historical Records of New South Wales. See also an excellent resource provided by the National Library of Australia, Australian History, Selected websites.

The Australian Constitution owes much to those of the United States and Canada, the other great federations that existed at the time it was being drafted (although that of Switzerland also played a part). It in turn was employed as a model for the constitutions of later federations – those of India, Pakistan, Malaysia and Nigeria. Constitutional case law from those jurisdictions is thus of interest to Australian lawyers, particularly that of India in recent years.

There is currently no Australian Bill of Rights, although there have been many proposals to develop one over the years. An activist High Court, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, under Chief Justice Sir Anthony Mason, developed a theory of implied rights under the Constitution, which, for a time at least, led some to believe that a bill of rights was unnecessary.5 In November 2008, the Federal Government established a National Human Rights Consultation Committee to undertake an inquiry and consultation process to gauge the need and support for the statutory protection of rights. The Committee is due to report back in August 2009.

There are a number of respected commentaries on the Australian Constitution, most of them having gone through several editions. The principal source-book remains the Annotated Constitution of the Australian Commonwealth, (Sydney: Law Book, 1901) by John Quick and Robert Garran, men who actually participated in or observed the Convention debates in the 1890s. Other major texts include:

A.Blackshield & G.Williams, Australian constitutional law and theory: commentary and materials, 4th ed.,Sydney: Federation Press, 2006.

C.Howard, Australian federal constitutional law, 3rd ed., Sydney: Lawbook , 1985.

P.Lane, Australian federal system, 2nd ed, Sydney: Lawbook, 1979.

P.Lane, Lane’s commentary on the Australian constitution, 2nd ed., Sydney: Lawbook, 1997.

S.Ratnapala, Australian constitutional law, foundations and theory, 2nd ed, Melbourne: OUP, 2007.

L.Zines, Commentaries on the Australian constitution, Sydney: Butterworths, 1977.

L.Zines, The High Court and the Constitution, 5th ed., Sydney: Federation Press, 2008.

Australia follows the Westminster model of government. The Head of Government, the Prime Minister, is the leader of the political party which can command a majority in the House of Representatives (the lower chamber in the Commonwealth Parliament, the Senate being the upper chamber). The number of Members elected to the House of Representatives depends on the size of the State’s population but the same number of Senators is elected by the people of the States, regardless of the size of population. The Senate was originally envisioned as the “States’ House” which would look after the interests of the individual States, but it has always been partisan. The Australian political landscape has long been dominated by the Labor Party (left of centre) and a coalition of the Liberal Party and the National Party (conservative). A smaller party, the Australian Democrats, has sometimes held the balance of power. At the Federal level, the Labor Party, led by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, was elected to power in December 2007. There are no fixed terms for Australian governments, and although an election must be held after three years they are often called before this time has elapsed, for a variety of reasons. Fixed terms have been advocated, as well as an expansion of the term of office, but without success. Voting in Australian federal and state (and some municipal) elections is compulsory.

As mentioned above, the Head of State is currently Queen Elizabeth II. There was a strong move to bring about an Australian Republic in the late 1990s, with a president as head of state. The model proposed was a ‘minimalist’ one which would, in essence, have seen the substitution of the Crown for a President in the Constitution, with the President being appointed by a two-thirds majority of the Federal Parliament. The national referendum to decide on amending the Constitution so as to bring about a republic, held in November 1999, was defeated, in large part because the advocates for a republic were split over the method of appointment of the president; a split exploited by those who favoured retention of the status quo. It is extremely difficult to effect any change to the Australian Constitution. It requires a “double majority” comprising a national majority of voters; and a majority of voters in a majority of the states to approve any amendment. Since Federation only 8 out of 44 proposals to amend the Constitution have been approved. The record of the debates from the constitutional convention which preceded the national referendum on the republic issue may be found at the Australian Parliament web site. For further information see and S.Vizard, Two weeks in Lilliput: bear-baiting and backbiting at the Constitutional Convention, (Penguin, 1998).

While the Republic issue was extremely important, and will certainly be revived, many would argue that the most dramatic event in Australian political history was the dismissal, by the Governor-General, in 1975, of the Government of Labor Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam. A good starting point for research on this still controversial topic is the web site,

Another controversial issue in Australia was addressed when the newly elected Rudd Government issued a formal apology to Australia’s indigenous peoples for their past mistreatment, especially in respect of what has become known as the Stolen Generations – children of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who were forcibly removed from their families. (Note also the report on the removal of non-indigenous Australians, known as the Forgotten Generations).

A wealth of information about the workings of the Australian Parliament, the Federal system, the different branches of government, the role of the Governor-General and more can be found at the Australian Parliament web site, and the links maintained there. For general information, a good starting point is the CIA World Fact Book. For an expanded overview and introduction to the Australian legal system, its history and development, see also:

L.Waller, Derham, Maher and Waller, An introduction to law, 8th ed., Sydney: Lawbook, 2000.

P. Vines, Law and justice in Australia: foundations of the legal system, 2nd ed., South Melbourne: OUP, 2009.

P.Parkinson, Tradition and change in Australian law, 3rd ed., Sydney: Lawbook, 2005

T.Reynolds & A.Flores, ” Australia “, Foreign law: current sources of codes and legislation in jurisdictions of the world. Buffalo, N.Y., Hein, c1994- .

<Table of Contents>

Parliaments and Laws

The Australian Commonwealth Parliament and those of the States are bicameral, with the exception of that of the State of Queensland which abolished its upper house in 1922. The self-governing territories also have legislative assemblies. Proposed legislation is tabled in the originating house (usually, but not always, the lower house) as a Bill (a draft law or Act), accompanied by an Explanatory Memorandum (Explanatory Note in New South Wales) 6. An explanation of the bill and its purpose (called the “second reading speech”) is then read to the house by the responsible minister. This explanation is often referred to by courts in determining the purpose behind a particular legislative provision; it is thus extremely important to the research process. The bill may then be debated in the house (sometimes over a period of weeks, or even months) and possibly referred to a ‘standing’ or ‘select’ committee for further consideration, including public hearings, and a report. Once passed by the originating house the process is repeated in the other chamber – and the bill may again be referred to a committee. The text of bills, explanatory memoranda, all debates and the deliberations and reports of committees is increasingly being made available on the web sites of the various parliaments. That of the Commonwealth Parliament is quite comprehensive for the period starting in the mid 1990s. It is also extremely current; text is usually available within 24 hours. The Commonwealth Parliament maintains a list of other Australian parliamentary web sites.

Once legislation is passed by the second house (if it is), then the bill is sent to the Governor-General (for the Commonwealth) or Governor (for the States) for the Royal Assent. It is then published in its final “Act” form which comes into force either on the same day, or on a prescribed date in the future – stated in the Act, contingent on a certain other even, or on a date to be notified in a government gazette. If there is no information in the Act about commencement (stated in the first sections) then the Acts Interpretation Acts for each jurisdiction provide that Commonwealth, Victorian, New South Wales and Western Australian Acts come into force 28 days after the Royal Assent, and on the date of assent for South Australian and Queensland Acts.7

These Acts, or session laws, are published initially in pamphlet form and then in bound volumes that collect together all of the Acts passed during a given year. Amended Acts are periodically subjected to a ‘cut and paste’ process where all amendments are incorporated, and reprinted, also as pamphlets. Typically, these are filed alphabetically by law libraries in binders.Reprinted Acts are becoming subsumed by online “compilations” of the Act, with current and historical compilations now freely available for all jurisdictions.

“Delegated” or “subordinate” legislation is often published under the authority of an Act (known as the enabling Act). Subordinate legislation created by the Commonwealth is now referred to as “Legislative Instruments”.Subordinate legislation includes the statutory rules and regulations that provide the machinery to implement the policy dictated by an Act – forms and the like.Subordinate legislation is tabled in parliament but is not subject to the same process as Acts and their publication is notified in the relevant Commonwealth or State Government Gazette. They are also initially issued as pamphlets, then annual bound volumes. They are also updated and reprinted and the reprints are filed by law libraries in the same way as reprinted Acts.

Finding Australian Legislation

The Commonwealth Government’s own law database, ComLaw (formerly SCALEPlus) is the official source for Commonwealth Acts, legislative instruments, statutory rules and regulations, as well as some Territory legislation.ComLaw offers sessional Acts, regulations, etc and legislative compilations (including historical compilations), and the ability to navigate between principal and amending Acts, regulations, etc.The State legislative web sites also offer the official versions of legislation for that State and are hosted by the parliament web site or an associated legal body such as the Attorney-Generals Dept or Office of Parliamentary Counsel. A list of the various parliament web sites with links to associated legislative web sites can be found at that of the Australian Parliament.

As well as the official versions of legislation, published on behalf of the various governments, the several commercial publishers (listed below) market a variety of unofficial versions, in print and e-based. These may be “raw” collections, for example the income tax and corporations legislation is typically reprinted every six months by two of the main commercial publishers. Or they may be kept up to date in value-added collections – of which loose-leaf services and electronic subscription services are the usual example. There is at least one of these on most Australian legal topics. Typically they contain all of the relevant legislation, with commentary and case annotations.

In the past, an Australian law librarian would have typically started research on a given Act by going to the reprint collection in his or her library, noting the date of the reprint and then checking for further amendments since that date, however this time-consuming process has now largely given way to checking legislation via one of the government web sites or AustLII. There are two commercially published annotation services for Commonwealth legislation (Commonwealth Statutes & Annotations (Thomson Reuters) and Federal Statutes Annotations (LexisNexis Butterworths). Each of the states has at least one such service, some more comprehensive than others. Noting up information for legislation from all Australian jurisdictions is also included in two major commercial updating services primarily designed to provide current case digests, but which contain a wealth of other information – Australian Current Law (LexisNexis Butterworths) and the Australian Legal Monthly Digest (Thomson Reuters). Both are available in print and online.

Limited, if any, Australian legislation is currently available in LexisNexis or Westlaw. An Australian fee-based service, Lawlex, provides a useful search engine and platform to access full text legislation available from the official government websites for all Australian jurisdictions, in addition to numerous valuable research aids including historical versions of Acts and parliamentary material (and much of the access, where it is to the official government sources, is free).Two other subscription databases of Australian legislation are LawOne on the TimeBase platform, and LawNow, on LexisNexis AU (the Australian content LexisNexis platform).LawOne provides full text legislation for all Australian jurisdictions in both consolidated and sessional form, with associated legislative material including Bills, EMs and Second Reading Speeches.Updated daily, LawOne offers a statutes judicially considered function to the section level of the Act. LawNow, available on the LexisNexis AU platform, contains full text legislation from all Australian jurisdictions, linked to case and commentary services in the CaseBase and Halsburys Laws of Australia databases respectively.Legislative history and historical versions of the legislation are available, as is a browse function.

However for the non-Australian researcher the simplest method to locate Australian legislation, unless your library has current reprinted legislation (not usually the case), or an up-dated print or e-based loose-leaf in the relevant area, is to visit the AustLII web site. AustLII now provides the full text of both sessional and reprinted legislation from all Australian jurisdictions, provides hyptertext linking within legislation and offers a rudimentary but very useful note-up function. To check the currency of the legislative databases on AustLII, click on the Update Status for Legislation link on the homepage. The various Australian jurisdictions may be searched individually through AustLII, or in total via that web-site’s search engines. If a required Act or Regulation cannot be found on the AustLII site, check the web site of the relevant Parliament or State legislative web site.

<Table of Contents>

Courts and Judgments

The story of the development of Australian law is complicated by the involvement of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, sitting in London. The Privy Council was for many years the ultimate court of appeal for Australia as it still is, for some other Commonwealth jurisdictions – although not for England itself. The Judicial Committee itself is not an English court and its members have comprised judges from a number of Commonwealth countries, including Australia. Most of its members, however, have been English judges and the Privy Council has always applied English law. Although the full story is too detailed to be explained adequately here, it can briefly be stated that appeals to the Privy Council were permanently terminated after negotiations that resulted in the passing of Federal and State Australia Acts in 1985 and 1986. The Federal Government had earlier passed legislation to abolish appeals in constitutional matters and from federal and territory courts in the 1960s and 1970s. For further explanation see Derham, Maher and Waller, An introduction to law (noted above) and the decision of the High Court of Australia in Kirmani v Captain Cook Cruises P/L (No.2.).

Because of the long established superior position of the Privy Council which applied English law, and the fact that, in some cases, it could over-rule decisions of the High Court, it was difficult for Australian law to develop its own identity. Decisions of the English appellate courts had, at the least, very high persuasive authority and this meant that Australia remained under the English shadow. Until the 1980s and the final termination of appeals to the Privy Council (and a 1978 decision of the High Court stating that it would no longer consider itself bound by decisions of the Privy Council 8), English reports and texts were extensively relied on, and the amount of homegrown legal literature was comparatively small. In the years since, that situation has altered radically. There has been an explosion in Australian legal writing; a proliferation of new texts and journal titles and of specialist law report series. Some of this writing can also be attributed to the doubling in the number of Australian law schools since the late 1980s. Decisions of English appellate courts are still referred to, and are probably still more persuasive than those of other jurisdictions, in part because Australian lawyers are more familiar with them, however it is increasingly common for Australian lawyers and judges to refer to decisions of the other major common law jurisdictions, particularly those of the superior courts of the United States, Canada and New Zealand.

The High Court is at the apex of the unified Australian legal system. The Constitution has vested it with original and appellate jurisdiction in a number of areas, and the High Court also sits as the Court of Disputed Returns in relation to disputes about the validity of federal elections. Appeals in most cases are subject to special leave. There are three other federal courts, the Federal Court, the Federal Magistrates Court and the Family Court. And the courts of the states and territories also sit within the national hierarchy with either a Supreme Court or Court of Appeals at the local apex, from which appeals lie to the High Court. For further explanation of the Australian court system see Australia’s Legal System, a web site maintained by the Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Department. It provides descriptions of the various federal courts and tribunals and their jurisdictions. See also Australian Courts of Law by James Crawford and Brian Opeskin (4th ed., Melbourne: Oxford, 2004).

The ‘raw’ or ‘unreported’ versions of all Australian court decisions (and those of many Commonwealth and State tribunals) are available from AustLII; those of the High Court usually within an hour of being handed down by the Court. AustLII also provides the full text of transcripts of argument before the High Court (a very useful resource for primary research). Unreported judgments from most Australian jurisdictions are also available in the Australian libraries on Lexis and Westlaw and via two of the fee-based Australian online services – LexisNexis AU (formerly Butterworths Online and now the local manifestation of the new LexisNexis global platform) and Legal Online.

Most Australian jurisdictions have an official, or authorised, series of law reports. They are:

Commonwealth Law Reports (CLR) High Court of Australia

Federal Court Reports (FCR) Federal Court of Australia

New South Wales Law Reports (NSWLR)

Northern Territory Law Reports (NTLR)

Queensland Reports (QdR)

South Australian State Reports (SASR)

Tasmanian Reports (Tas R)

Victorian Reports (VR)

Western Australian Reports (WAR)

Most of these series are, or will be, available either through LexisNexis, Westlaw or Legal Online. In addition to the authorised report series, there are very many unauthorised series published by Thomson, LexisNexis or CCH. Some are general, some are subject-specific. Any family law-related decision, for instance, of the High Court, would be published in the Commonwealth Law Reports (the only authorised series for decisions of the High Court), the Australian Law Reports (LexisNexis), Australian Law Journal Reports (Thomson), Family Law Reports (LexisNexis) and Family Law Cases (CCH). Note that although the Commonwealth Law Reports is the authorised series it may take a year or more for a given judgment to be published therein.

The Colonial case law project run by Professor Bruce Kercher of Macquarie University Law School deserves special mention. This project is making available decisions of the superior courts of New South Wales and Tasmania from the 18th and 19th centuries that were hitherto only available in newspapers, housed in a very few libraries. Most of these decisions have never been available for study, certainly not readily, and some of them have already shed interesting insights into the treatment of indigenous peoples by courts in the 19th century. A current project collects the material related to the coup against Governor Bligh (of Bounty fame) known as the Rum Rebellion. Additionally, the web-site provides access to unreported decisions of the Privy Council in respect of appeals from the Australian colonies before 1850.

Finding Australian Cases

If you have the details, and are content with the unreported version of a case, AustLII is the place to try first. Note that its coverage of the various courts and tribunals varies. That of the High Court is the most comprehensive, with the full text of all reported cases since the Court’s inception in 1903. Most others are of more recent origin. LexisNexis and Westlaw can be tried in the alternative, if your library has access. And do not forget the web sites of the individual courts and tribunals – which may be the only place to find a very recent judgment. A listing of these may be readily found at the National Library of Australia web site.

If you do not have the citation, or require an alternate cite, use one of the two online Australian case citators, Casebase (LexisNexis AU) or FirstPoint (Thomson Reuters via Legal Online). FirstPoint is created from an amalgamation of the print publications, Australian Case Citator and the Australian Digest, the latter, as the name implies, provides digests or summaries of reported Australian cases from 1825 (unreported coverage from 1999). You might also use one of the two legal encyclopedias, Halsbury’s Laws of Australia (LexisNexis, print, and online) or the Laws of Australia (Thomson, and via Legal Online). Failing access to any of these, a search of the case name in Australian case law libraries on AustLII, LexisNexis or Westlaw might provide citation details from a reference in another case.Note also that AustLII are currently developing an international free-access citator known as LawCite, and already over 2 million case and journal citations are loaded into this database.

To find Australian cases generally on a topic, there are a variety of means, depending upon the resources at your disposal. CaseBase and FirstPoint provide digests of cases, so topic access is facilitated, otherwise consult a major recent text or loose-leaf service; one of the legal encyclopedias, or the Australian Digest. Use any of these resources or even start with a search of journal literature in preference to a full text database search for general subject research. The latter tends to be too hit or miss.

<Table of Contents>


Australian treaties are negotiated and signed by the Commonwealth Government. Full information about the Australian treaty-making process, national interest analyses, the text of multilateral and bilateral treaties and ratification, etc., information is available from the Australian Treaties Library prepared by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), and hosted on AustLII. The similarly named, Australian Treaties Database, also prepared by DFAT, provides additional information on the current status and domestic implementation of treaties.

Secondary Sources

Journal Literature

Both the Index to Legal Periodicals and LegalTrac index a growing, range of Australian law journals. For comprehensive research however, use the major general Australian legal journal index, AGIS (Attorney-General’s Information Service). AGIS (and now AGISPlusText) includes coverage of the Australasian region (including New Zealand and the Pacific) and it also indexes a number of other major legal journals from the UK, the US and elsewhere. AGIS is one of the AUSTROM collection of fee-based indexes available from Informit, which hosts a collection of other Australian journal indexes some of which will also be of use in legal research. These include FAMILY (Australian family and society abstracts), CINCH (Australian criminology), AFPD (database of the Australian Federal Police) and also APAIS, the general public affairs literature index for Australia (which includes full text).

AGIS coverage commences in 1975. For journal literature before that date use the Index to Legal Periodicals.

A growing number of Australian law journal articles are available in full text through the online services of their respective publishers, LexisNexis and Westlaw, and on their respective Australian platforms, LexisNexis AU and Legal Online. An increasing number of Australian law journals are also being made available via HeinOnline. Some university law reviews are freely available through their respective web sites and some are also hosted on AustLII.

Legal Encyclopedias

Many might consider Australia fortunate to have two legal encyclopedias. Not so, many Australian law librarians who feel the need to have both services in their libraries and must find the scarce funds to subscribe. That said, these are both magnificent works of legal scholarship, and a great boon to legal researchers. There is considerable overlap between the two encyclopedias and for the purposes of a foreign law library, subscription to one of them would be sufficient. Halsbury’s Laws of Australia and The Laws of Australia published by rivals LexisNexis and Thomson, are both available in print and online.

Law Reform

The Australian Law Reform Commission is the best known Australian law reform agency. The Commission has an extremely good web site, where it makes available the full text of all of its reports, discussion papers, etc. The Commission web site also has a ‘links’ page with what appears to be a comprehensive listing of other Australian law reform bodies and also a useful list of those from other jurisdictions. For information about the older publications of the various Australasian law reform agencies see The law reform digest: a digest of the reports of the law reform agencies of Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea 1910-1980, (Canberra: AGPS, 1983), and The law reform digest: a digest of the reports of the law reform agencies of Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea 1980-1985, (Canberra: AGPS, 1985).

Government Information

All Australian government departments and agencies maintain web sites. Typically these make available the text of reports, issues papers, press releases and general information about the particular department and its activities. Links to all Australian government entities can be readily located through the Australian Government Information web site or that of the Federal Government.


There are several Australian dictionaries of legal words and phrases. See in particular Butterworths Australian Legal Dictionary, 3d ed., (LexisNexis, 2004).


See Findlaw Australia.

Legal Research Guides

There are a number of highly respected guides to Australian legal research. They include:

E.Campbell, Lee Poh-York, J.Tooher, Legal research, materials and methods, Sydney: Lawbook, 1996.

S.Milne & K.Tucker, A practical guide to legal research, Pyrmont, NSW: Lawbook, 2008.

G.Morris et al., Laying down the law, 7th ed, Sydney: LexisNexis Butterworths, 2009.

B.Bott, J.Cowley, L.Falconer, Nemes & Coss Effective legal research, 3rd ed., Sydney: LexisNexis Butterworths, 2007.

A.Stuhmcke, Legal referencing, 3d ed., Sydney: Butterworths, 2005.

R.Watt, Concise legal research, 6th ed., Sydney: Federation Press, 2009.


The major Australian legal publishers:

Thomson Reuters (formerly Law Book Company, LBC and Lawbook)

LexisNexis Butterworths (formerly Butterworths)

CCH Australia

Cavendish Publishing

Federation Press

Oxford University Press

Note: the reader may encounter a degree of confusion over the names of some of the major Australian law publishers. Historically the two main publishers have been the Law Book Company and Butterworths. Law Book changed its name to LBC Information Services and then back to Lawbook. It is now owned by the Thomson Reuters group and increasingly books are being published under Thomson Reuters branding although the locally developed online service is still called Legal Online and has not, as yet, been merged with the Westlaw platform. Butterworths is now owned by the Reed Group which also owns LexisNexis. The name LexisNexis Butterworths was used for a time but now seems to have given way to LexisNexis, and the local name for the new LexisNexis global platform is LexisNexis AU. The authors do not doubt that there will be further changes still.

Current Awareness

There are a number of sources that can be monitored for current awareness purposes. The major Australian legal publishers, LexisNexis Butterworths, Thomson Reuters and CCH all make freely available legal news updates from their websites. Most recommended is Jurist Australia. As well as daily updated legal news Jurist provides links to the latest decisions from the principal courts.

As noted above, two of the major publishers have long provided commercial updating services for case law and legislation. Australian Current Law (LexisNexis) and the Australian Legal Monthly Digest (Thomson) are available in print and online via the publishers’ online services.

Many Australian newspapers may be searched through NEXIS and some may also now be found in the Australian library on Westlaw. All of them maintain web sites where the current day’s major stories may be found. The principal newspapers include:

The Australian

The Australian Financial Review

The Age

The Canberra Times

The Sydney Morning Herald

The Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) broadcasts a weekly radio programme, “the Law Report” where topical issues are discussed. Transcripts of the broadcasts can be found on the ABC web site.

Discussion Lists

The Australian Law Librarian’s Association provides the principal discussion list for Australian law librarians. Information about subscribing to the list is available at that organization’s web site.

Information Brokerage

Monash University Library provides a fee-based service that will provide copies of cases, legislation, journal articles or other material, drawing on the collection of one of Australia’s largest law libraries. The service will also provide quotations for undertaking reference and research work.

Major Texts

Following is a short listing of major texts on the principal legal topic areas (except for constitutional law which was noted above). This is a very limited selection from a wide field, in most cases consisting of the author’s favourites. Loose-leaf services have mostly not been included, as being less likely to be purchased by non-Australian libraries. The catalogues of all Australian law book publishers are online (links above), as are the catalogues of all university law libraries. Recommendations for further inclusion in this list are welcomed.

Administrative Law

P.Cane & L.McDonald, Principles of administrative law: legal regulation of governance, South Melbourne: OUP, 2008.

Banking Law

A.Tyree & P.Weaver, Weerasooria’s banking law and the financial system in Australia, 6th ed., Chatswood, NSW: LexisNexis, 2006.


M. Murray Keay, Insolvency: personal and corporate law and practice, 6th ed., Pyrmont, N.S.W.: Lawbook, 2008.

Conflicts of Laws

P.Nygh & M.Davies, Conflict of laws in Australia, 7th ed., Sydney: Butterworths, 2002.


J.Carter, E.Peden & G.J.Tolhurst, Contract law in Australia , 5th ed., Sydney: LexisNexis Butterworths, 2007.


R.Austin & I.Ramsay, Ford’s principles of corporations law, 13th ed., Sydney: LexisNexis Butterworths, 2007.

Criminal Law

S.Bronitt, B. McSherry, Principles of criminal law, 2nd ed., North Ryde, N.S.W.: Lawbook, 2005.

Environmental Law

G.Bates, Environmental law in Australia, 6th ed., Sydney: Lexis Nexis, 2006.


R.Meagher, W.Gummow, J.Lehane, Equity: doctrines and remedies, 4th ed., Sydney: LexisNexis, 2002.


J.Heydon, Cross on evidence, 7th Australian edition, Sydney: LexisNexis, 2004.

Family Law

G.Monahan & L.Young, Family law in Australia, 6th ed., Chatswood,NSW: LexisNexis, 1997.

Inheritance and Succession

R.Atherton, P.Vines, Succession: families, property and death: text and cases, 2nd ed., Sydney: LexisNexis Butterworths, 2003.

Intellectual Property

S.Ricketson, The law of intellectual property : copyright, designs & confidential information, 2nd ed., Sydney: Lawbook, 1999- . (loose-leaf)

Labour Law

R.Owens, J.Riley, The Law of Work, South Melbourne: OUP, 2007.

Native Title

R.Bartlett, Native title in Australia, 2nd ed., Sydney: LexisNexis Butterworths, 2004.

Property Law

B.Edgeworth, et al., Sackville and Neave Australian property law: cases and materials, 8th ed., Sydney: LexisNexis Butterworths, 2008.

Public International Law

S.Blay, R.Piotrowicz, M.Tsamenyi (Eds.), Public international law: an Australian perspective, 2nd ed., South Melbourne: OUP, 2005.

Real Property Law

P.Butt, Land law, 5th ed., Pyrmont, N.S.W.: Lawbook, 2006.


R.Woellner et al., Australian taxation law 2009, 19th ed., North Ryde, N.S.W.: CCH Australia, 2009.


R.Balkin & J.Davis, The law of torts, 3rd ed., Sydney: LexisNexis Butterworths, 2004


a. The authors wish to thank Lisa Smith, former Monash University Law Librarian and Sarah Joseph of Monash University Faculty of Law for their helpful comments and suggestions on earlier versions of this guide. We also wish to thank Colin Fong, University of New South Wales Faculty of Law, for numerous suggestions in respect of the 2009 edition.

1. A fascinating and very thorough account of Australia ‘s external territories and their legislative history is contained in a report to a committee of the Australian Parliament: Islands in the sun : the legal regimes of Australia ‘s external territories and the Jervis Bay Territory Canberra: Parliament. House of Representatives Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, 1991. Maps showing the external territories are available from Geoscience Australia.

2. Mabo v Queensland [No.2] (1992) 175 CLR 1

3.Australian Courts Act 1828, Imperial Act 9 George IV, c83.

4..The Federal Parliament disallowed a law of the NorthernTerritory that would have permitted euthanasia. See, eg., G.Williams & M.Darke, “Euthanasia laws and the Australian Constitution” (1997) 20 University of New South Wales Law Journal, 647.

5. See, eg., L.Zines, “A judicially created Bill of Rights” (1994) 16 Sydney Law Review, 166.

6. A technical explanation of the bill prepared by the office of parliamentary counsel, the office responsible for drafting legislation.

7. Not all Acts become law. Policy may change before an Act comes into force or an election may bring a government of a different political persuasion to power, with a different agenda.

8. Viro v R. (1978) 141 CLR 88

<Table of Contents>

2009 Nicholas Pengelley and Sue Milne. Users may browse, download, print and link to this Guide for any non-commercial use or for educational use.

Posted in: Government Resources, International Legal Research