AustLII Guide to Legal Research on the Web

6. SCALEplus

6.1. Background

SCALEplus has been available on the internet since January 1997, and is the internet version of the Commonwealth Attorney-General’s SCALE database. SCALE has performed a pioneering role in developing Australian legal databases since 1975, and in keeping computerised legal information in public ownership.


SCALEplus home page <>

Further information about SCALEplus

The User Manual and the SCALEplus Quick Reference are available from the SCALEplus website.

6.1.1. Accessing SCALEplus

Access to SCALEplus is free. It can be accessed directly at <> or from AustLII’s Australian Links Publishers - Servers page.

Access to SCALE plus databases from AustLII’s index

All SCALEplus databases are indexed in AustLII’s Australian Links. Access from AustLII’s index allows users to easily assess availability and make a comparison between similar resources on SCALEplus, AustLII, Butterworths Online and other sites.

6.1.2. Databases from SCALE on other web sites

SCALE provides some of its databases to AustLII, and some to Butterworths Online. However, AustLII now obtains updates to many of the databases which it originally obtained from SCALE direct from the Courts, Tribunals and governments concerned, and does not obtain updates from SCALE. AustLII’s use of SCALE updates is decreasing but still very significant. There is therefore a very substantial common ‘historical collection’ shared by SCALE and AustLII, but decreasing similarity in their method of updating.

6.1.3. Databases

Since April 2002, the primary focus of SCALEplus is the maintenance of all the legislation of the Commonwealth and non self-governing Territories.

Commonwealth Legislation

pasteact - Commonwealth Paste-ups of Acts

pastereg - Commonwealth Paste-ups of Regulations

histact - Commonwealth Historical Acts

histreg - Commonwealth Historical Regulations

comact - Commonwealth Numbered Acts

numrul - Commonwealth Numbered Regulations

Territory Legislation

Ashmore and Cartier Islands

Australian Antarctic Territory

Christmas Island - Numbered Ordinances

Cocos-Keeling Island

Coral Sea Islands Territory

Heard Island and McDonald Islands

Jervis Bay Territory

Other Databases

acts - Commencement dates of Acts

bills - Status of Legislation in the Parliament

6.2. Browsing SCALEplus

Browsing is commenced from the ‘Browse All Data’ option accessible from the menu on any page. This displays the list of databases above.

6.2.1. Browsing legislation

After selection of a legislative database, and alphabetic list of Act names is provided, in which each Act is listed as follows:


- Updated as at 15 March 1996

[List of Sections][Search in this Section][Download Section]

The ‘buttons’ have the following meaning:

[List of Sections] Displays the table of contents of the Act.

[Search in this Section] Search within this Act (an Act is a Chapter of the database)

[Download Section] Download the whole Act

Navigation within a section

When a section of an Act is accessed, the following ‘buttons’ are available:

[Previous Article] Goes to the previous section

[Next Article] Goes to the next section

[Show Table of Contents] Back to the table of contents

6.2.2. Browsing case law

The tables of contents for cases are in order of years, ending in entries such as:

HIGHCT decisions delivered in 1997.

[List of Cases][Search in this Case][Download Case]

These buttons mean:

[List of Cases] List of cases for that year, in order of release

[Search in this Case] Search within this year of cases (A year is a Chapter of the database)

[Download Case] Downloads the list of cases.

Each case has the same [Previous Article][Next Article][Show Table of Contents] buttons as for legislation, but they are less useful for case law.

6.3. Search terms and connectors

SCALEplus uses the Topic search engine. Topic provides boolean searching, some forms of proximity searching, and relevance ranking of search results.

6.3.1. Search terms

An understanding of how SCALEplus interprets search terms is vital to its proper use.

Acceptable search terms

SCALEplus only searches for alphanumeric characters (letters and numbers). Special characters such as `.', `/', `$', (, [, { etc. are not indexed, and their inclusion in searches will cause the searches to fail and return the result ‘This search query was not valid search language’ . Spaces must be used to replace special characters in a search. For example, instead of `s. 27(1) (a)' in a search you must search for ‘s 27 1 a’, or the following result will appear:

Search Results

Your query was: s27(1)(a)

This search query was not valid search language

It doesn’t matter how many blank spaces replace special characters, but it does matter if there is no blank space. For example, a search for ‘s 27 1 a’ results in 7 hits, but a search for ‘s27 1 a’ results in only 3 (completely different) hits.

Use of parentheses

Although use of parentheses as part of search terms will cause a search to fail (as shown above re ‘ s27(1)(a)’, where it is clear that the parentheses are used to group search terms together (eg ‘offence and (gun or weapon)’ or ‘27 and (1 or 2)’)), the search will succeed.

Automated stemming

Stemming is applied automatically on SCALEplus, so no truncation operator is necessary or recognised. A search for ‘crypto’ will therefore find ‘cryptography’, ‘cryptographic’, ‘cryptology’ etc. A search for ‘negligen’ will be similarly effective.

Automatic stemming, if the user does not realise it is occurring, will often produce disastrously excessive recall. For example, a search for ‘man’ will also retrieve ‘manufacture’, ‘manacle’, ‘mandate’ etc.

If you do not want stemming to apply, enclose the search term in double quotes (eg. "man").

Topics - the automated thesaurus

‘Topics’ or ‘topic trees’ are a feature of the Topic software similar to an automated thesaurus, and which give the software its name. They have not yet been implemented on SCALEplus but described in the Manual as ‘soon to be available’.

The SCALEplus Manual describes topics as:

‘Topics are a tree structure method of searching that work in a very similar manner to a thesaurus. Instead of having narrower and broader terms a Topic Tree is a set of branches that allow more intelligent searching. For example a topic tree may have on one of its branches the term "Indigenous People". Under this term (further down the tree) would be "Maori" "Aboriginal" and "Indian". What a topic tree will do is that when a search of Indigenous People is entered, Topic will find all instances of the entered term PLUS all instances of the terms in the branches underneath.’

6.3.2. Search connectors and operators

The available search connectors and operators are explained in the SCALEplus Quick Reference as set out below.

Note that angle brackets (< >)are generally necessary around search connectors. They are, however, optional for the <and>, <or> and <not> operators.

If ‘and’, ‘or’ or ‘not’ are to be used as part of search terms (eg in ‘fit and proper person’ or ‘fame or fortune’ or ‘not on offer’), either the phrase or the connector must be put in double quotes.





crime <and> punishment

the left and right angle brackets are optional here.


fine <or> penalty

the left and right angle brackets are optional here.


<accrue> (fraud, embezzle)

like <or>, but has enhanced relevance ranking.


avoidance, evasion

also like <or>, but <accrue> is implied.


murder <not> knife

find first term, but not documents containing the second.


constitutional law <in> name

documents with search term in zone (here, the title).


favour <sentence> fresh documents

containing terms in same sentence.


jeopardy <paragraph>

life documents containing terms in same paragraph.


ship <near> piracy

terms occurring in same general area as each other.


ship <near/10> piracy

terms occurring within 10 words of each other.

* ? (wildcards)


* = stem (danger, dangerous);


? = substitute any letter (cut, cot, collect)

=, >, <, >=, <=

date = 21/9/95

field searching - standard Boolean operators apply

Explanation of search operators from SCALEplus Quick Reference

The following examples are given in the SCALEplus Quick Reference:

national environment protection council <and> class action

constitutional law <and> s 51 <and> date > 01/01/1975

(national environment protection council <and> 15) <in> name

pure "and" simple <and> manner calculated <near/3> deceive

constitutional law <sentence> (s 51 <or> s 60)

"clear and present danger" <paragraph> executive power

(date >= 01/01/1995 <and> date <= 31/12/1995) <and> native title <in> name

6.4. Search interfaces

SCALEplus has two search interfaces: (a) Quick Search; and (b) Advanced Search.

6.4.1. Unstructured search interface (‘Quick Search’)

This interface, which is accessible from the SCALEplus front page (or from ‘Home Page’ at the top of any screen), suggests that only a phrase or a search word can be entered. In fact, any well-formed search can be entered, such as

(((university)<IN>name)<and>(tenur))<and>DATE>1 january 1990

By default, the search is limited to only Commonwealth Case Law and Commonwealth Legislation databases.

‘Quick Search’ requires knowledge of search terms, connectors and how to limit searches in order to be used effectively.


SCALEplus - Quick Search interface

Only the first 50 documents are displayed, no matter how many are found. This cannot be changed, and there is no way to see the remaining documents. See ‘Advanced search’ below. You must hit ‘Search’ to start the search.

6.4.2. Structured search interface (‘Advanced Search’)

The main virtue of the structured search interface is that it makes it unneccessary to remember as much about the search connectors and methods of limiting searching as do the other two interfaces.

The following example shows selections from the screen in order to search for cases where a university was a party to the case (‘Name’ in the top right hand box) and (as checked) the text of the case (‘Whole document’) referred to tenure (tenur = tenure, tenurable, tenured etc), and the date of the case was dated after (‘greater than’) 1 January 1990.

This is equivalent to a search for:

(((university)<IN>name)<and>(tenur))<and>DATE>1 january 1990

The ‘Advanced Search’ interface has the following extra options: (i) you have space to enter a search that goes for more than one line; and (ii) you can specify that you want to see more than 1000 hits (the unchangeable limit for ‘Quick Search’). Both features may sometimes be valuable. You must also press ‘Clear’ - you can’t just hit the Enter key.


SCALEplus - Advanced Search interface

You must hit ‘Search’ to start the search.

6.5. Limiting the scope of searches

6.5.1. Limiting searches to only some databases

In default, you search all Commonwealth databases when you first start a session on SCALEplus.

Other basic database selection can be made on the Quick Search interface. For more customisable database selection, you will need to use the ‘Select Databases’ menu as explained below.

Quick Search Interface

The Quick Search interface allows you some basic database selection options as shown below. You can select multiple database collections by clicking on the applicable checkboxes.


Database selection using Quick Search interface

‘Select Databases’ Menu

For more customised database selection, use the ‘Select Databases’ menu available from the Advanced Search interface.

You can deselect all options by clicking on ‘Clear All’. Alternatively, you can select all available options by clicking on ‘Select All’.

You can select major collections by clicking on the applicable button, for example, ‘All Commonwealth Legislation’. However, if you only want to search one or two databases, you can’t deselect groups of databases such as ‘All Commonwealth Legislation’, so a very time-consuming process of individual deselection would be required. It may be more efficient to click on ‘Clear All’ first and then select the individual databases.


SCALEplus - ‘Select Databases’ menu

Don’t forget to use ‘Set’

You must hit the ‘Set’ button before any new database selections take effect. It is not sufficient to simply check the boxes.


Warning - Any limited selection of databases stays current until you change it

This is one of the most common causes of search failure.

6.5.2. Using zones to limit searches ( <in> operator)

Each page in a database is divided into ‘zones’, and searches may be limited to a zone by use of the <in> operator. Examples for legislation and case law databases are given below.

The <in> operator has a high binding strength, so parentheses should always be used to ensure that the search is evaluated correctly. For example ‘ (privacy act 1988 and offence) <in> name’ gives the correct result, but ‘ privacy act 1988 and offence <in> name’ gives all sections in any act where the title refers to ‘offence’.

‘Zones’ are the equivalent of the ‘Named sections’ in the old SCALE system, and <in> is equivalent to the use of the @ operator in the STATUS retrieval system.

Zones in legislation databases





Short title of Act

privacy act 1988 <in> name


Text of sections, rules or regulations

treason <in> sect


Text of any schedules

geneva convention <in> sch


Text of the 'Notes' to an Act or a Regulation

236 <in> notes


Text of a Reader's Guide (if present)

Zones in caselaw databases





Title of case

(Whitlam and Queensland) <in> name


Composition of Court

Kirby <in> court


Catchwords of cases

(Crimes Act <near> 14) <in> cwds


Headnotes of cases (not in all caselaw)

(murder, manslaughter) <in> hdnt


Hearing, judgment and appearances

Griffith <in> hrng


Individual judgments.

Murphy <in> judge?

Note that for the JUDGE? zone, it does end in a ‘?’, unlike the other zones.

Display of results

Where the <in> operator is used, the results are not ranked, as every item is given a score of 1.00, as shown below.

1. Score: 1.00 Database: TASDEC Size: 23695


146/1996 Judgment No. 17/1997 Number of pages - 7 Procedure - Workers


[Show FIRST Hit] [Show from Start]

The [Show FIRST Hit] button does not work with zone searching.

6.5.3. Limiting searches by date

The DATE field is used in cases on SCALE and once in each Act. Searches can be limited by use of the DATE field and the =, >, <, >=, and <= connectors. Both ‘1/1/1995’ and ‘1 January 1995’ are acceptable date formats.

The following searches are therefore acceptable:

manslaughter and DATE > 15 May 1996

compensation and DATE <= 30/9/1996

6.6. Display of search results

Searches result in the display of results such as the following extract from a search for ‘telecommunications and intercept and warrant’.

6.6.1. Relevance ranking

Results do not appear in any order determined by the databases from which each result originates. Instead, each item is ranked according to its likely relevance (as shown in its ‘score’: 0.98 or 0.97 in the example below).

8. Score: 0.98 Database: HIGHCOURT Size: 133079



46 (1995) 131 ALR 225, (1995) 69 ALJR 724

[Show FIRST Hit] [Show from Start]

9. Score: 0.97 Database: FEDDEC Size: 41605


NORMA JONES No. VG329 of 1984 Administrative Law - Criminal Evidence -

Words and Phrases 60 ALR 176 / 2 FCR 44

[Show FIRST Hit] [Show from Start]

10. Score: 0.97 Database: HISTACT Size: 33028


[Show FIRST Hit] [Show from Start]

6.6.2. Number of hits displayed

The number of hits to be displayed (50, 100 or all) must be chosen before searching, as it is not possible to go to the ‘next page’ of search results.

6.6.3. Context displays

The [Show FIRST Hit] button above allows you to go to the first hit in each document, but there is then no way to go directly to subsequent hits.