Cases and legal authorities

Cite cases, rulings and determinations using the correct style. Accuracy helps people find the source material. Specify the law report or online legal authority that hosts the relevant judgment or decision.

Style for case names is title case, not always italics

A case is a matter to be settled at law. It is also an instance or the process of making a claim in a lawcourt. Legal authorities are published sources of legal reasoning, doctrine and rulings made by courts and similar bodies.

The people or organisations named in the case are known as ‘parties’. Capitalise the names of the parties but use a lower case ‘v’ between the party names. There is no full stop after ‘v’.

Case names have this basic form: Party v Party.

Write the name of the case in italics. This rule is for case names that are mentioned briefly in general text.

Use roman type for cases in reference lists and other long lists. Blocks of italics are difficult to read.

Always write the names as they appear in your source.

Example

  • In Commonwealth v Tasmania …
  • The article discusses an important case in the High Court, Commonwealth v Tasmania.

The abbreviated title is in italics

Cases are often known by an abbreviated title. On first mention of the case name, follow it with the abbreviated title in parentheses. For in-text references, write this title in italics and use title case (maximal capitalisation). You can then use the abbreviated title throughout the content.

Do not capitalise ‘the case’ or ‘this case’.

Example

  • … the important case in the High Court, Commonwealth v Tasmania (Tasmanian Dam Case). The case saw the Commonwealth …
  • … the State of New South Wales v The Commonwealth (Wheat Case). The Wheat Case

The full citation gives users detail they might need

Most government writing about cases requires a full citation. Citations show people where to find the published authorised judgments and decisions of courts, commissions and tribunals. They also tell people who made the decision and what year it was made.

Citations can be in text or in notes, depending on organisational style and the format of the content.

Decisions are either reported or unreported

Reported decisions are published in authorised law reports (a report series). For example:

  • Commonwealth Law Reports (CLR) contain authorised reports of High Court decisions.
  • Federal Court Reports (FCR) contain authorised reports of the Federal Court.
  • Industrial Reports (IR) contain decisions of the Commonwealth Fair Work Commission.

Always cite an authorised report if it is available.

Unreported decisions are published in report series from the legal authorities themselves. For example:

  • High Court of Australia (HCA)
  • Federal Court of Australia (FCA)
  • Fair Work Commission (FWC).

The abbreviations for the report series of reported and unreported decisions are different. Some unreported decisions are published in a report series later on. This is why the same case might have 2 or more citations.

Use parentheses (round brackets) for reported decisions that use consecutive volume numbers for the whole series. This means you don’t have to use the year to find the volume on the shelf.

Example

Reported decision with consecutive volume numbers for the whole series:

  • name of the case: The State of New South Wales v The Commonwealth
  • year of decision: (1915)
  • volume of report series: 20
  • report series abbreviation: CLR
  • page number where the report begins: 54

[The full in-text citation or note is The State of New South Wales v The Commonwealth (1915) 20 CLR 54 (Wheat Case).]

Use square brackets for reported decisions that use the year as a volume number. This means you must look for the year first, then for volume 1, 2 and so on. Other years would also have a volume 1.

The authorised report of a case might have been published some time after the decision was handed down.

Example

Reported decision with the year as a volume number:

  • name of the case: Kashemije Stud Pty Ltd v Hawkes
  • year of report: [1978]
  • volume of report series: 1
  • report series abbreviation: NSWLR
  • page number where the report begins: 143

[The full in-text citation or note is Kashemije Stud Pty Ltd v Hawkes [1978] 1 NSWLR 143. It tells you when the authorised report was published in the New South Wales Law Reports. This might not be the year the NSW Supreme Court handed down the decision.]

Unreported decisions are always in square brackets. There is no volume number, as the case is not part of an authorised report series. The legal authority publishes the report in its own series.

Example

Unreported decision with no volume number:

  • name of the case: The State of NSW v The Commonwealth
  • year of decision: [1915]
  • volume of report series: (not reported in a volume)
  • report series abbreviation: HCA
  • judgment number [relates to year of decision]: 17

[The full in-text citation or note is The State of New South Wales v The Commonwealth [1915] HCA 17 (Wheat Case). This citation tells you the High Court of Australia published the decision.]

Civil and criminal case titles have different elements

Civil and criminal cases have specific citation elements. They differ.

In civil case titles, the ‘v’ is pronounced ‘and’. In criminal case titles, the ‘v’ is pronounced ‘against’.

For civil case titles, specify the first plaintiff and defendant

Civil cases usually involve a dispute between organisations or individuals. The plaintiff is the person or organisation who files a complaint with the court. The other party is the defendant.

Example

Koowarta v Bjelke-Peterson (1982) 153 CLR 168

[The plaintiff was Koowarta, the defendant was Bjelke-Peterson]

Most citations use only family names. Corporation names are usually given in full, although abbreviations are acceptable.

Usually, citations use only the name of the first-mentioned party on each side of a case.

Other parties are sometimes noted by the phrases:

  • ‘and Others’ or ‘& Ors’
  • ‘and Another’ or ‘& Anor’.

Example

  • SZIBU and Another v Minister for Immigration and Citizenship and Another [2007] FCA 108
  • The State of Victoria and Others v The Commonwealth (1926) 38 CLR 399
  • Cunningham & Ors v Commonwealth of Australia & Anor [2016] HCA 39

In civil cases, use sentence case and italics for ‘Re’ and ‘Ex parte 

Sometimes the title of cases includes the terms ‘Re’ and ‘Ex parte’. Use sentence case and write both in italics.

‘Re’ means ‘in the matter of’ and that is how it is said. ‘Re’ in the title of a civil case means the court acts in a particular way – for example, in an advisory capacity.

‘Ex parte’ means an application brought before the court by one party without the other party having to be notified – for example, when one party applies for an injunction.

Example

Nduta v Minister for Immigration & Border Protection [2016] FCA 1596; Re Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs; Ex parte Durairajasingham [2000] HCA 1; 74 ALJR 405.

An Ex parte application of Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police ...

For criminal case titles, list all defendants

Criminal cases are usually initiated by the Commonwealth or state (for the Crown) against people or organisations (the defendants) who are alleged to have committed an offence under criminal law.

List the names of all defendants separated by a comma.

If prosecuting, the Crown is signified by an ‘R’ without a full stop. This is a Latin abbreviation for ‘Regina’or ‘Rex’, meaning ‘Queen’ or ‘King’.

Example

  • R v Bayda, R v Namoa (No 8) [2019] NSWSC 24 [The Crown against Bayda and Namoa as defendants]
  • R v Alice Lynne Chamberlain and Michael Leigh Chamberlain [1982] NTSC [The Crown against Alice (Lindy) and Michael Chamberlain as defendants]

If the Crown is the respondent in a criminal appeal, reverse the parties and write ‘Appellant v The Queen’ (not ‘R’). If the Crown is the appellant, ‘The Queen’ is the first party cited.

Example

  • Chamberlain v The Queen (1984) 153 CLR 521
  • The Queen v Baden-Clay [2016] HCA 35

Subsequent citations in notes use the first party

When citing cases using notes, always use a full citation as the first citation. After that, you can use the name of the first party, followed by the case citation.

Example

  • 1 Steinmetz v Shannon (2019) 99 NSWLR 687. [The full citation the first time]
  • 8 Steinmetz (2019) 99 NSWLR 687. [Only the first party to the case in a subsequent note]

Pinpoint citations use ‘at’ for page and paragraph numbers

If you use notes, write pinpoint page numbers for the citation using ‘at [page number]’.

You can follow the page number with the number of the relevant paragraph as it appears in the judgment. Write the paragraph number in square brackets.

Use a comma to list separate pinpoint citations.

Example

  • 1 Ruddock v Vadarlis (2001) 110 FCR 491 at 1191. [The pinpoint citation is on page 1191.]
  • 2 Rojoda Pty Ltd v Commissioner of State Revenue (2018) 368 ALR 734 at 737 [10], 760 [108]. [The pinpoint citations are at page 737 (paragraph 10) and page 760 (paragraph 108).]
  • 3 Gedeon v The Queen (2013) 237 A Crim R 326 at 361–362 [174]–[178]. [The pinpoint citation is for pages 361 to 362 (paragraphs 174 to 178).]

Decisions can differ between judges or magistrates

Identify the judicial officer whose judgment you are citing. Cite the case fully and add ‘per [name] [judicial office abbreviation]’.

Use these abbreviations:

  • J (Justice)
  • JJ (Justices)
  • CJ (Chief Justice)
  • ACJ (Acting Chief Justice)
  • FM (Federal Magistrate)
  • JA (Justice of Appeal)
  • DCJ (District Court Judge).

Example

  • UBS AG v Tyne (2018) 92 ALJR 968 at 979 [45] per Kiefel CJ, Bell and Keane JJ, [61] per Gageler J.
  • Mabo v Queensland [No 2] (1992) 175 CLR 1 at 106–107 per Deane and Gaudron JJ.
  • 1 Ward v The Queen [2000] WASCA 413; (2000) 23 WAR 254 at 25 per Kennedy J.
  • Chief Justice Kiefel and Bell and Edelman JJ accepted that such agreements would be excluded.

Titles for Commonwealth tribunal decisions are in italics

Write the title of all tribunal decisions in italics.

Tribunals are adjudicative institutions with powers to:

  • review government and administrative decisions
  • make administrative decisions
  • investigate matters
  • settle claims and disputes.

Most tribunals are established by Acts of parliament which set out their powers, functions and operations. Acts give tribunals the legal authority to make decisions. There are tribunals in each state and territory. 

Under the Constitution, only federal courts have the judicial power of the Commonwealth. Commonwealth tribunals exercise administrative rather than judicial power.

Federal courts cannot review administrative decisions made by government, so parliament often gives this power to a tribunal.

The president and members of a tribunal can be judges. For example, the President of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal is a judge of the Federal Court of Australia.

Find the decision title on the tribunal website or an alternative 

Decisions are published on tribunal websites, on the Federal Court of Australia’s website or on AustLII.

There are a large number of Commonwealth tribunals, including:

The AAT has an authorised report series – the Administrative Law Decisions (ALD). The AAT’s unauthorised report series, AATA, is available on AustLII.

The Fair Work Commission also has an authorised report series – the Industrial Reports (IR). Unauthorised reports are available on the commission’s website.

Always cite the authorised report if it has been published and you have access to it.

Example

  • Minister for Home Affairs v AYJ17 [2019] FCA 591; 165 ALD 64 [Administrative Appeals Tribunal decision, also published by the Federal Court of Australia as decision 591 of 2019]
  • Application by Flexigroup Limited [2020] ACompT 1 [Australian Competition Tribunal decision]
  • Application by Isentia Pty Limited [2018] ACopyT 4 [Copyright Tribunal of Australia decision]
  • McCleave v Chief of Navy [2019] ADFDAT 1 [Defence Force Discipline Appeal Tribunal decision]
  • David Thomas and Frederick (Junior) Faamausili Ailua v Virgin Australia Airlines Pty Ltd t/a Virgin Australia [2019] FWC 4464 [Fair Work Commission decision]
  • Kyburra Munda Yalga Aboriginal Corporation RNTBC v Rock Solid Holdings Pty Ltd & Another [2020] NNTTA 31 (11 March 2020) [National Native Title Tribunal decision]

Titles for Tax Commissioner rulings have unique elements

The Commissioner of Taxation has the power to make rulings – public, private and oral – that interpret the laws administered by the Australian Taxation Office (ATO).

Public rulings comprise rulings and determinations and are legally binding advice. Draft and final public rulings are published on the ATO Legal Database.

The full titles of public rulings have 3 elements that appear in a set order:

  1. a ruling or determination type – for example, ‘Goods and Services Tax Ruling’
  2. a number – for example, ‘GSTR 2019/1’
  3. a title in italics – for example, Goods and services tax: supply of anything other than goods or real property connected with the indirect tax zone (Australia).

Write the full title at first mention.

Example

Goods and Services Tax Ruling GSTR 2019/1 Goods and services tax: supply of anything other than goods or real property connected with the indirect tax zone (Australia)

Specify whether it’s a ruling or determination in all subsequent mentions

For subsequent mentions, write the type of ruling or determination or write the number.

Use an initial capital when you refer to specific rulings.

Example

Class Ruling CR 2019/19 Income tax: Department for Health and Wellbeing South Australia Early Retirement Program 2019 [A full citation of the title for a ruling]

Options for subsequent mentions of this Ruling:

  • ‘The Class Ruling’
  • ‘the Ruling’
  • ‘CR 2019/19’.

Taxation Determination TD 2019/13 Income tax: what is an employee share trust? [A full citation of the title for a determination]

Options for subsequent mentions of this Determination:

  • ‘The Taxation Determination’
  • ‘the Determination’
  • ‘TD 2019/19’.

In notes, cite the title, source and paragraph numbers

If you use notes, cite the ATO Legal Database as the source.

For pinpoint citations, use paragraph numbers for public rulings (rather than page numbers). Write the paragraph number in square brackets preceded by the words ‘para’ or ‘paras’.

For subsequent notes for the same public ruling, cite the number (and paragraphs for a pinpoint citation).

Example

  • 4 Australian Taxation Office, Fuel Tax Determination FTD 2019/1 Fuel tax: fuel tax credits vehicles and satisfying environmental criteria, ATO Legal Database, para [4]. [The full citation the first time; specifies the source and pinpoints paragraph 4]
  • 15 FTD 2019/1, paras [6]–[8]. [Only the determination number in a subsequent note; pinpoints paragraphs 6 to 8 for the citation]

Release notes

The digital edition has considerable advice on how to cite legal material. It includes new material on Commonwealth tribunals and Australian Tax Office rulings. It expands on sixth edition information on treaties.

The digital edition departs from sixth edition guidance about the capitalisation, punctuation and italicisation of citation elements for some legal material. The current edition also recommends the contraction ‘Cth’ rather than ‘Cwlth’.

These departures are informed by legal material and general publications from Australian courts, government agencies working in the legislative context and academic sources. The digital edition style is for general, rather than specialist, legal content.

The Content Guide briefly mentioned legislation in relation to capitalisation. There was no detailed guidance about how to cite legislation.

About this page

References

Attorney-General’s Department (n.d.) Legal system: publications, Attorney-General’s Department website, accessed 16 June 2020.

Attorney-General’s Department (2017) Style guide, Australian Government, Canberra.

Australian Government Solicitor (n.d.) Publications, Australian Government Solicitor website, accessed 16 June 2020.

Australian National University Library (2018) Authorised law reports, ANU Library Libguides, Australian National University, accessed 16 June 2020.

Council of Australasian Tribunals and the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General (2017) Practice manual for tribunals, 4th edn, Council of Australasian Tribunals, accessed 16 June 2020.

Hansard (2020) Hansard style guide, Department of Parliamentary Services, Parliament of Australia, Canberra.

High Court of Australia (2020) Judgments, High Court of Australia website, accessed 16 June 2020.

Maddy (17 April 2017) ‘Referencing hack #2 — square vs round brackets’, Queensland University of Technology Library blog, accessed 16 June 2020.

Melbourne University Law Review Association Inc and Melbourne Journal of International Law (2018) Australian guide to legal citation, 4th edn, Melbourne University Law Review Association Inc, accessed 16 June 2020.

Oxford Libguides (2020) Legal skills and research: citation, Oxford Libguides website, accessed 16 June 2020.

R v Alice Lynne Chamberlain and Michael Leigh Chamberlain [1982] NTSC [The Crown against Alice (Lindy) and Michael Chamberlain as defendants].

University of Technology Sydney and University of New South Wales Faculties of Law (n.d.) Australasian Legal Information Institute (AustLII), AustLII website, accessed 16 June 2020.

Whitbread D and Leary K (2016a) AGS editorial style guide, Australian Government Solicitor, Canberra.

Whitbread D and Leary K (2016b) AGS style guide: summary, Australian Government Solicitor, Canberra.

This page was updated Thursday 15 April 2021.

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