The Victorian Reports - an introduction

The Council of Law Reporting in Victoria is incorporated under a 1967 Act. The Act continues a previously unincorporated council of legal practitioners and the Attorney-General and Solicitor-General (each ex officio) that commenced in 1875 and has published the official law reports of cases of the Supreme Court since 1876. Since about 1921, a Judge of the Supreme Court has been a member of the Council and chairs it.

The Editor of the Victorian Reports is a practising barrister, who selects for reporting cases of enduring precedential value from the decisions of the Supreme Court. Each report contains catchwords (keywords) and a headnote (summary of issues and findings in the case), prepared by the reporter (a lawyer) and settled by the editor, in addition to the edited reasons for judgment of the Court.

The value and significance of the Victorian Reports is that they publish important cases in a form authorized by the judges of the Court –that is, for each reported case, the judge or judges have reviewed and approved the summary of the case, as well as having revised and approved any editing of the reasons for judgment in the form published in the Victorian Reports.

Selection of cases

The criteria for selection of cases remain in principle as developed in the late 19th century when authorized law reports commenced. In summary, a reported case is:

  • a case which clarifies or addresses conflicting authorities, whether within the Supreme Court, or as between Victoria and other jurisdictions;

  • a case which gives an authoritative interpretation of a provision of a new or important or frequently used statute (eg Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities, Civil Procedure Act, Criminal Procedure Act, Corporations Act, Accident Compensation Act, Evidence Act, Crimes Act; Planning and Environment Act and so on);

  • a case which introduces a new principle or rule of law;

  • a case on an important matter of practice or procedure; and

  • a case which is otherwise instructive or helpful (for example, which conveniently summarises or acts as a refresher on a technical area of law).

While distinctively Victorian areas of law are fully represented, as Editor, I seek to ensure that cases of national significance on federal law (such as the Corporations Act) and uniform State and Territory law (in areas such as Arbitration, Building and Construction Industry Security of Payment, Defamation, Evidence, Legal Profession Uniform Law and similar) are well –covered. This develops the national reputation and attractiveness of the Victorian Supreme Court as a venue for resolution of disputes, as well as contributing to a consistent national body of law.

Some 70 – 75 cases per year (of approximately 1,000) are selected for reporting and between three and four volumes are published each year. The balance between criminal law and civil law is currently about 20% criminal and 80% civil, covering the full gamut of the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction. About 60% of reported cases are judgments of the Court of Appeal; the balance are cases of the Trial Division, including appropriate noteworthy decisions of Associate Justices and Judicial Registrars.

Peter Willis SC, Editor 2016 – pg_willis@vicbar.com.au