Case Law and the Canadian Abridgement – How is Case Law Compiled?

Every judicial decision is documented, but not all are published.
A reported decision is a case published in a case law reporter. A case law reporter is a publication of the full-text decisions of judges, e.g. Ontario Reports (OR)or Canadian Criminal Cases (CCC). Additional editorial information, commentary or headnote will often accompany the text of these published decisions, including useful information such as: a summary of the principal points of law raised in the decision or a summary of the legislation, jurisprudence and secondary sources cited in the decision. This commentary is usually written by legal experts.

However, not all cases are reported. Many cases remain unreported and are never published in a print journal. This does not mean the case remains unavailable, however; in today's climate of electronic publishing, a vast amount of otherwise unreported case law is now available in online commercial service providers like LexisNexis/Quicklaw and Westlaw Canada, as well as on freely-accessible websites such as CanLII and many court websites. Merely because an unreported case is available, however, does not mean it is as authoritative as a reported one. Published case law reporters have a team of experienced legal editors (usually lawyers) who select cases for their authority, relevancy, and utility to the legal profession generally. Like the bird in the hand, it is always better to have one reported case in support of your argument rather than two unreported ones!

REMEMBER: You should always independently assess the relative authority of the decision before you. The mark of a experienced legal researcher is the ability to identify significant decisions relevant to your case!

IMPORTANT: This module is meant to be completed in conjunction with the McGill Guide (see below for more information). A few versions of the McGill Guide are on Reserve at the circulation desk in the Brian Dickson Law Library. However, purchasing your own personal copy is highly recommended.