This guide provides information about researching Australian law, including books, subscription databases, and internet resources. To learn more about starting research in a foreign law jurisdiction visit our instructional video:
Australia has three branches of government: executive, legislative and judiciary, with a separation of powers doctrine. Under the Australian Constitution, all Ministers (department heads in the Executive Branch) must be Members of Parliament (the legislative branch).
Parliament can make laws only if given the power by the Constitution. However, if Commonwealth law does cover an area where there is also a state law, the state law is invalid where inconsistent. English common law applies in matters not covered by either Australian or state law. Some pre-1901 British laws remain in effect in the country today.
The Commonwealth of Australia consists of six states and two major territories. These are often referred to by abbreviations, as follows:
Minor territories include the Norfolk Islands (NF) plus seven other territories in the Indian Ocean, South Pacific Ocean and Antarctica. The ACT, Northern Territory, and Norfolk Islands are self-governing and have their own courts. The other territories are non-self-governing.
The Commonwealth of Australia came into existence on 1 January 1901, created from six formerly separate British colonies.
Federation meant that the six colonies (called states after Federation) surrendered some powers to form a central government to deal with national issues. Each state maintained its own identity, including a constitution, laws, courts, etc. The legal system applicable to each also differs.
Until the 1980s, the British Parliament and courts still maintained some jurisdiction over Australia.
The Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act (1900), by the British Parliament, established the Australian Constitution. The Library of Congress provides information regarding helpful materials on Australian Constitutional Law.
The national legislature is the Parliament of Australia. The House of Representatives contains 151 members representing the Australia electorates. While, the Senate contains 76 members representing states and territories. The parliament chooses a government based on majority of a single party or a coalition of parties in the House of Representatives. The de facto head of government is the Prime Minister of Australia. On the advice of the Prime Minister, the Queen appoints a Governor-General.
"To make or change a law, a bill must be introduced into the Parliament. Bills are then debated and voted on by members of parliament. To become a law a bill must be agreed to by a majority vote in the House of Representatives and the Senate, and be given Royal Assent by the Governor-General. Laws are also known as an Act of Parliament." Work of the Parliament.
The legislative process is outlined the the House of Representative's page on:
Historical Acts of Parliament are available in print at:
"In very general terms, British legislation no longer applies to Australia either federally or at state level." For more detailed information visit:
The three major courts are the Supreme Court, the High Court and the Court of Appeals. WorldLII.org provides a detailed online listing of courts and court reports. There is also a:
The Australian Law Reports is the official publication for case law.
Online access to cases is available through:
The context surrounding a legal issue can be an extremely important part of the research process. News sources can help researchers stay up to date and provide an important frame of reference. The National Library of Australia has a helpful Research Guide on:
Current Australian news sources are available through Lexis, Westlaw, and Factiva:
Historical news is available through the following databases:
To learn about more places to find historical legal collections from Australia visit:
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