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Case Law: Unreported judgments

Unreported decisions

  • Unreported judgments are decisions of the courts that have not been published
  • An unreported case may be cited as an authority but it is less persuasive than a reported decision. Although there is debate about the precedent value of unreported decisions, in practice and in academia they are heavily used as they may contain the only statement of the law on a particular subject.
  • Since the late 1990s they have only been made available online. Earlier judgments were made available as paper pamphlets
  • They are often recent decisions and may be reported in due course
  • Always use a case citator to check if an unreported decision has subsequently been reported. More info about Case citators 

Australian unreported judgments are available in Lexis Advance and Westlaw AU. They are also published on AustLII and on various government websites including those of the court delivering the judgment. Reliable sources are listed in the panel on the right.

You can  find unreported judgments from the Supreme Court of Western Australia (1958-1990, some issues missing) in the Beasley Law Library, third floor, law reports collection. 

Unreported Judgment Citation

When a judgment is handed down by a court the text of the decision is usually published very quickly on the court webpage. Soon afterwards, decisions from Australian courts are also published in a variety of legal databases, including AustLII, Lexis Advance and Thomson's Westlaw AU.

These decisions are referred to as unreported judgments because they have not been published in a law report series. An unreported judgment may subsequently be reported in one or more law report series. Although there is debate about the precedent value of unreported decisions, in practice and in academia they are heavily used as they may contain the only statement of the law on a particular subject.

Medium Neutral Citation

The unreported judgment below is an example of a medium neutral citation.

This method of citing unreported judgments was devised in the late 1990s by the High Court of Australia in order to accommodate the citation of judgments when they were first made available online. As they dont have page numbers, pinpoint references are managed by sequentially numbering all paragraphs in the online judgment. All unreported judgments from the late 1990s are available online.

Example of a medium neutral unreported judgment citation:
Browne v Dunne [2000] HCA 23 at [4] 

Citation Element Description Comments
Browne v Dunne Party names Plaintiff v Defendant - the "v" is pronounced "and" in civil cases and "against" in criminal cases
[2000] Year Always use square brackets
HCA Court abbreviation See the Abbreviations Guide for more information
23 Judgment number The 23rd judgment published by the High Court of Australia in 2000
at [4] Pinpoint reference Sequential paragraph number within the judgment

 

Before 1999 unreported judgments were published as paper pamphlets and cited to reflect this format. In pre-1999 works you will see unreported judgments cited like this:

Example of a pre-1999 unreported judgment
Browne v Manning (Unreported, Supreme Court of Western Australia, Hawkins J, 3 September 1992) p. 23

Citation Element Description Comments
Browne v Manning Party names Plaintiff v Defendant - the "v" is pronounced "and" in civil cases and "against" in criminal cases
(Unreported, Judgment form Unreported, Court, Judge and Date enclosed in round brackets
Supreme Court of Western Australia, Court name in full  
Hawkins J, Judges name/s  
3 September 1992) Date of delivery  
p. 23 Page number  
 

Citing Unreported Judgments using the Australian Guide to Legal Citation style

The Australian Guide to Legal Citation at section 2.8 specifies a citation format for unreported judgments that is slightly different from the standard legal citation format described above.

Medium Neutral Citation
Osborne [2001] VSCA 228 (Unreported, Winneke P, Buchanan and Vincent JJA, 14 December 2001) [18] (Winneke P)

Without Medium Neutral Citation (pre-1990s documents)
Bruinsma v Menczer (Unreported, Supreme Court of NSW, Santow J, 16 November 1995)

The UWA AGLC Referencing Guide offers more information on citing unreported judgments using the AGLC style. 

Find unreporteds

Banner images: Image 1 retrieved from Pixabay. Image 2 by UWA Library. Image 3 retrieved from SBS. Image 4 retrieved from SL Blogs. Image 5 retrieved from Wikimedia.

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