Researching the law

In Australia, the law is made up of statute law and common law. Researching the law can help you prepare your case and give you confidence in the courtroom. There are a number of resources you can use to help you research the law and find legal information.

    ​Statute l​aw​

    Statutes are laws made by parliament and are known as 'Acts' or 'legislation'. The name of the Act will have the year it was made in and which parliament made it. For example:

    • Crimes Act 1900 (NSW)

    This means the Act was passed in 1900 and is a New South Wales (NSW) law.

    •   Family Law Act 1975 (Cth)

    This means the Act was passed in 1975 and is a Commonwealth (or Federal) law.

    Acts usually have 'Regulations' or 'Rules' connected to them. Regulations have more details about procedure.

    To search for NSW Acts, Regulations and Rules, go to the NSW legislation website.

    To search for Commonwealth Acts, Regulations and Rules, go to the ComLaw website.

    Knowing which law applies to your case can help you assess the strength of your case and prepare for any questions the magistrate or tribunal member may ask you in the courtroom.

    Common law

    Common law refers to decisions made by Judges, Magistrates and Tribunal Members. The decisions are made by interpreting Acts, Regulations and Rules and other similar cases.

    Common law cases are named after the parties involved in the case and include details so you can find the case. For example:

    • Donoghue v Stevenson [1932] AC 52
      - Donoghue is the person who started the case.
      - Stevenson is the person defending the case.
      - 1932 is the year of the decision.
      - AC tells you the case can be found in the law reports called 'Appeal Cases'.
      - 52 is the page number.

    To look at NSW cases, go to the Caselaw website or the Austlii website.

    Reading cases similar to yours can help you understand the law. You can also refer to some of them at court if you think they support your case.

    Legal information

    There are a number of resources you can use to find legal information:

    • Other topics on this website
    •  LawAccess online
    •  Legal Information Access Centre (LIAC)
    •  The Law Handbook

    Other topics on this website

    This website has a number of resources to help people represent themselves at court. It has plain language information including step by step guides, instructions to fill in court forms and sample forms, checklists, frequently asked questions, flowcharts and interactive guides on various areas of the law including:

    LawAccess Online

    LawAccess Online is a website provided by LawAccess NSW. It has over 2000 plain language factsheets and guides on various areas of the law. You can use the search function on the website to help you find resources specific to your legal issue.

    For more information, go to LawAccess Online.

    Legal Information Access Centre (LIAC)

    The Legal Information Access Centre (LIAC) is a specialist information service of the State Library of NSW. It provides access to high quality information about the law for all members of the community in NSW via the Find Legal Answers website, public libraries, and by working in partnership with key legal sector agencies.

    The State Library has extensive legal resources. The Library's general reference staff can assist clients find and use these resources.

    For more information, go to the Find Legal Answers website.

    Law Handbook

    The Law Handbook is one of the key plain language resources in NSW and has legal information on a broad range of legal subjects. It originated in the Community Legal Centre sector and was first published in 1978.

    You can find a copy at your local library in the 'Legal Answers Tool Kit'. It is also available online on the Find Legal Answers website.