Case Law and the Canadian Abridgement – Finding Case Law
Finding case law takes practice. To locate the right case or cases you must employ an effective research strategy.
Start by asking yourself the following questions:
- Do you want the full text of a case?
- Do you want just the citation of the case?
- Do you want a summary or digest of the case?
- Do you want a reported or an unreported case? (And remember, some unreported cases are actually just not-yet-reported cases.)
- Do you want a list of all the cases related to your case?
- Do you want the history of your case? (e.g. Have there been previous appeals?)
The answers to these questions will determine the best way for you to search for cases.
There are a variety of ways to search for case law. The main ways are:
- By case name (or citation)
- "known-item searching”
- By subject
- "unknown-item searching”
There are also a variety of research strategies and tools in print and electronic format available to assist you in locating jurisprudence. These include:
- consulting secondary sources;
- referring to annotated codes or statutes;
- browsing case law indexes;
- reading summaries or digests of cases;
- using a commercial online or Legal Information Institute (LII) database;
- using the Canadian Abridgment;
- updating and noting-up previously-located statutes or cases.
Although convenient and quick, Google cannot help with any of the above. Internet search engines are good for finding well-known or oft-cited cases, but not much else. A Google keyword search for caselaw will retrieve too many documents, and often irrelevant ones or ones with little or no authority.
NOTE: You should never begin searching for case law without first having developed an effective research strategy. An experienced legal researcher chooses carefully amongst these tools based on his or her client's needs!