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Recommendations for the Preparation of Decisions

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AustLII's Recommendations for the Preparation of Decisions

Last updated: 15 October 2002

When preparing decisions for electronic publication, the following checklist may be considered:

Paragraph Numbering

The use of continuous paragraph numbering within a decision will allow users of the document to refer to a certain part of the decision without relying on the medium in which the decision was reported: cf page numbers.

The High Court of Australia and the Supreme Court of Victoria have adopted the use of paragraph numbers in their decisions. Federal Court of Australia decisions will also have paragraph numbering soon.

Decision Numbers

The use of decision numbers is to be encouraged. Each decision should be assigned a unqiue decision number at the point of publication. The number sequence should start afresh at the beginning of each year. Appending an alphabet should be strongly discouraged. This does not mean that file numbers or matter numbers should not be used. The decision number attaches to a particular decision and not to the different matters being considered.

Vendor and Medium Neutral Citation

By combining the use of paragraph numbering and the assignment of appropriate decision numbers as well as the designator for the particular court or tribunal, it is then possible to produce a citation for a decision which can be referred to as soon as it is published and is not tied to any specific medium.

  1. AustLII's Approach
  2. Example: Smith v Jones [1998] 4 HCA

    This means that the decision Smith v Jones was decided in 1998 and was the fourth decision of that year. Further, for a reference to paragraph number 10, the citation becomes Smith v Jones [1998] 4 HCA 10.

    For further information of AustLII's approach see: 4.6 A new case citation standard - vendor and medium neutral of the AustLII papers [Greenleaf et al 1997 (2) JILT]

  3. HCA's Approach

    Example: Smith v Jones [1998] HCA 4

    For a reference to paragraph number 10, the citation becomes Smith v Jones [1998] HCA 4 at [10].

    More information about the HCA's approach can be found at Alternate citation formats that were proposed can be found at

While the HCA's approach differs slightly from AustLII's approach, we feel that it is a workable method of citation. Further, as there is a growing acceptance of the HCA's approach, this may be the more appropriate form of citation to use so that some standardisation of citation format can be achieved.

A court or tribunal should encourage the use of vendor and medium neutral citation when preparing its decisions as a form of parallel citation. In other words, the medium neutral citation should be used in footnotes and references if available.

Open Exchange Format

Storing decisions in an open exchange format should be encouraged. This will assist in the delivery of files across a number of platforms such as Windows, Macintosh.

AustLII's preferred exchange format is RTF (Rich Text Format). This format allows some aspects of the formatting such as bold and italics to be kept in the conversion to HTML for publication onto the Internet.

Standard Stylesheets

Certain practices should be in place to encourage the use of a standard stylesheet in the preparation of decisions such as through the use of a Word template or may be just use the same styles denoting various sections of the decisions.

The use of standard stylesheets not only improve the efficiency of processing but they create a uniform and consistent 'look and feel' to the decisions of a particular court or tribunal.

Cover Sheet and Consistent Structure

There are certain elements of a decision that should be clearly identified. They include:

Clear identification of these elements not only help users of the document locate relevant information efficiently, this approach will greatly assist in the processing of the decisions for publication. These elements should be placed at the start of the document.

Also, a consistent structure in how elements of a decision are placed would be most useful. For example, the reasons for a decision always appear after the cover sheet, the catchword section always appear before materials cited. This can be facilitated by using templates and creating a style guide within the individual court or tribunal.

For more information about cover sheets, see the AIJA Guide to Uniform Production of Judgments (2nd Ed) [1999] COL 1, The Hon Justice Olsson.

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