An even better law report database

Australia

Yesterday I wrote here advising people to read the official law report of family law-related cases, rather than rely upon what they read in the mainstream media. I explained that the law reports for most important cases can be found on the British and Irish Legal Information Institute website, better known as ‘Bailii’. In the course of my research for that post I had a glance at Bailii’s sister site for Australasia, ‘AustLII’, and I was impressed with what I saw.

The first thing to note about AustLII is that the site looks far more modern than Bailii, although the older, Bailii-like, site is still available, here. However, the modernity of the site is not what impresses. After all, there have always been websites that are flashy to look at, but contain little of substance, just as there are sites, like Bailii, that will win no awards for presentation but that contain far more useful information than a hundred flashy sites.

I also make little comment about the layout of the main site, as I didn’t really spend enough time on it to form an opinion. I couldn’t see a section with recent decisions or addition à la Bailii, which would be useful, but maybe that’s because I was looking in the wrong place.

What impresses me though is the way in which the law reports are laid out on the site. Of course, much of this may be thanks to the work of the Australian courts and judiciary, rather than AustLII, but whoever is responsible, they have done an excellent job, and I think show the way for how online law reports should be presented in this country.

By way of an example, let me take the case Curzon & Curzon, in which the judgment was handed down on 9 August last (note that they very sensibly use an ampersand between the parties’ names, rather than our confrontational ‘v’, for ‘versus’). The case concerned an application by a mother for permission to relocate to the USA with the children.

The report begins with an excellent headnote, explaining briefly what the case was all about. I have been arguing for headnotes to be included in our online law reports for some time. As I have explained here previously, headnotes provide the reader with a quick and easy way to find out what the case is about, without having to read the entire judgment – something that would be particularly useful for litigants in person searching for judgments relevant to their cases.

Following the headnote comes an equally useful summary of the law applicable to the case. This lists firstly relevant conventions and statute law, followed by relevant rules, and finally other relevant judgments. And all of these references include links to the online versions of these documents, making it extremely easy to find primary sources.

After this there is a summary containing details of the case including the parties, their lawyers, the judge dealing with the case and the hearing date(s).

Next comes the judgment itself, by which I mean the actual order made by the court. It may sound surprising to non-lawyers, but often our judgments do not include the order. I think seeing the order set out in full in this way can be particularly informative and instructive, especially for lay people reading the report, who may otherwise never have seen a court order.

Finally, the report sets out the judge’s reasons for the judgment complete, at least in this case, with footnotes detailing where in the evidence each point to which the judge refers can be found. The reasons for the judgment are, in fact, all that we get in most law reports over here. The reasons are well set out, with numbered paragraphs and appropriate headings, just like the best reports over here. As for footnotes, you do sometimes get these in our judgments, but I don’t recall seeing footnotes to the evidence quite like this. Actually, I don’t see the value of such footnotes to anyone not involved in the case, as they will not of course have access to the evidence. Still, it does provide confirmation that the judge was referring to the evidence when he or she put the judgment together.

As I explained yesterday, law reports are the best source of information for anyone wanting to know about a case. The better the report is set out, the more useful it is, and I do think that Australia provides a model for how our reports should be presented.

Photo of Sydney, Australia, by Corey Leopold via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence.

John Bolch

John Bolch often wonders how he ever became a family lawyer. He no longer practises, but has instead earned a reputation as one of the UK's best-known family law bloggers.

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1 comment

Lucas - August 27, 2017 at 1:23pm

I am an Australian law student and agree with your blog! Austlii’s new updates has made understanding the law much more user-friendly and (because I am young and trendy) I like the new modern outlook. A refreshing change from the older fashioned classic version. Go Austlii!

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