As many law librarians use the Australasian Legal Information Institute (hereafter AustLII) and/or Google on a daily basis, it is a useful exercise to examine what AustLII and Google do and do not do. This exercise is useful because experience teaching legal research at both the University of New South Wales and formerly at the University of Sydney indicates that some students regularly think AustLII is useful as a journal index and is capable of answering all of their legal research needs. Many students also think Google is the answer to most legal research questions. These students graduate and will often be found in places where law librarians are employed. Law librarians may grumble and ask: 'Why weren't they taught legal research properly in the first place?' Some law firm librarians have complained about new law graduates and their lack of legal research abilities beyond their use of AustLII.
One senior law students at the University of New South Wales recently asked why its law school is the only Australian one which compels students to do two legal research subjects. The answer was that many students forget what they learnt in first year and that legal research is important when commencing and sustaining a legal career.
Key questions to ask in conducting legal research are, what type of information are you seeking? Is it primary materials or secondary materials or a mixture of both? Answering these questions will assist in knowing where to look. AustLII has a wealth of both primary and secondary materials, although the author tends to use it for its primary materials. Google has a wealth of secondary materials, so it tends to be used for secondary materials.
What Information does AustLII Provide?
AustLII commenced in 1995. Little did we know at the time that this would be a catalyst in the revolution in Australian legal research. Since 1995 AustLII has built itself up from modest beginnings to one of the powerhouses of Australian legal research. Notably, CCH Australia Ltd is one of the major stakeholders of AustLII. A generation of law and non-law students has learnt to use it comfortably. In addition to law students, legal practitioners and law librarians have come to grips with the usefulness of AustLII.
One can see the strengths and limitations of the databases offered by looking at the AustLII menu. Since October 2003 all High Court of Australia decisions going back to 1903 are available electronically. This was a real coup in obtaining this data, courtesy of Thomson Corporation, owners of Lawbook Company.
Commonwealth or federal materials in AustLII include the following: Commonwealth Case Law
--High Court of Australia Decisions 1903-
--Family Court of Australia Decisions 1988-
--Federal Court of Australia Decisions 1977-
--Federal Court of Australia--Full Court Decisions 2002-
--Federal Magistrates Court of Australia Decisions 2000-
--Federal Magistrates Court of Australia--Family Law Decisions 2000-
--Industrial Relations Court of Australia Decisions 1994-
--Administrative Appeals Tribunal Decisions 1976-
--Australian Industrial Relations Commission Decisions 1988-
--Australian Competition Tribunal Decisions 1997-
--Australian Designs Offices Decisions 1983-
--Australian Patent Offices Decisions 1981-
--Australian Trade Marks Offices Decisions 1991-
--Copyright Tribunal Decisions 1997-
--Defence Force Discipline Appeal Tribunal Decisions 1999-
--Federal Privacy Commissioner of Australia Cases 2002-
--Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Decisions 1985-
--Immigration Review Tribunal Decisions 1990-
--Migration Review Tribunal Decisions 1999-
--National Native Title Tribunal Decisions 1994-
--Refugee Review Tribunal Decisions 1993- …