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Legal research and writing

About case law

Like legislation, case law is a primary source of legal information. Case laws are decisions of courts, tribunals and other adjudicative bodies that are responsible for rendering a decision on a matter  put before them or between parties.

Cases are collected in case reporters. Reporters can be based on topic, region, court or tribunal level.

Cases also are collected in online databases that are arranged by topic, region, court or tribunal. Some of these databases are freely available on the web; others are edited and available by subscription.

Authority of case law

Case law is mandatory authority and may establish the law in areas not governed by statute and may also establish judicial interpretations of legislation. Case law forms precedent for other courts to apply, in accordance with principle of stare decisis: In general, lower courts are bound by decisions of higher courts on the same point of law in similar or comparable circumstances. Decisions of the same level or from other jurisdictions are of persuasive authority. Sometimes, an appellate court will consider itself bound by another decision of the same appellate court on the same point, but not always.

Accessing case law

Entry points to the immense body of case law are often found with secondary sources:

Use of digests to access case law is discussed more fully in its own section under this topic.

A researcher who has reviewed relevant secondary sources can also find case law by searching free and subscription databases.

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This work by The University of Victoria Libraries is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License unless otherwise indicated when material has been used from other sources.