Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Finding judicial consideration of legislation — Part 2

This is the second post in an occasional series about legal research.

It's a very brief introduction to using Thomson's FirstPoint. FirstPoint is an electronic version of the Australian Digest, linking directly with Thomson's full-text judgment databases.

FirstPoint is a really, really, useful service. If you haven't made much use of it so far, I urge you to spend some time playing with it.

I wrote Finding judicial consideration of legislation — Part 1 a few weeks ago, about using LexisNexis AU to find cases about a legislative provision.

In case you don't remember, in my earlier post I looked for cases dealing with Confiscation Act 1997 ss 32 & 33, on forfeiture of tainted property. One case I found using LexisNexis AU was Winand (1994) 73 A Crim R 497.

Equipped with this information, here are two ways of searching FirstPoint.

Method 1

Login, and click on cases to take us to the case-search screen.

Log in to FirstPoint and select 'cases'

Next, we enter the case name or citation in the search fields. In this screen shot, I used the citation from Winand73 A Crim R 497 — in the citation field.

Enter case name or citation details in the FirstPoint search fields

Click search.

The search results show us the Hitlist for the search.

(At the top-right of the hit list we can see four icons that allow you tag, email, print and PDF the hitlist. They're all pretty self-explanatory, apart from tagging: it lets us store search results for future reference.)

Hitlist from searching for 73 A Crim R 497

The Hitlist shows us a breadcrumb trail for the digest classification for this case. We can click any link to show other cases in the same classification, or navigate to that classification using the navigation tree on the left.

I reckon this is the real benefit of FirstPoint. It's a great way of finding cases that deal with a subject or topic, across jurisdictions, rather than just a specific piece of legislation.

Another useful feature from the Hitlist is the ability to jump to the FirstPoint entry for the case. Click on R v Winand, and we get this:

Firstpoint result

This is another fantastic feature of FirstPoint. It's similar to the CaseBase function in LexisNexis AU, providing previous and subsequent judicial consideration history, and journal articles that mention the case. It also contains a digest or summary of the case.

The quality of these summaries varies. Some are really, really good, with a succinct factual outline of the case and pithy summary of the court's reason for its decision. Some just note the court's decision. And some don't have anything at all. (I think it's mainly the very recent cases that don't have any detail in them. I guess it's because the team of people who digest these cases need a little time to read them and summarise them.)

Now, to come back to finding other cases...we know look under the classification that covers cases relevant for our topic. Remember, we can do that either by clicking on the link that appeared under the case name, or expanding the navigation tree on the left-hand side of the screen.

FirstPoint classification search result

All we need to do now is to work through our results. In this search, looking under Discretion to make order > generally, we only have 15 cases. I just click on the case name and read the FirstPoint entry. I can quickly eliminate irrelevant cases, and select those I think will be relevant.

Method 2

The second method is to search for cases dealing with the specific statutory provision we're interested in.

Starting again at the cases search window, we enter our search term — Confiscation Act s 33 — and select the jurisdiction — Victoria.

FirstPoint statutory provision search

Click search.

The Hitlist from this search returns three cases.

FirstPoint statutory provision search Hitlist

From here, we can use all of the options I discussed above: viewing the FirstPoint entry; downloading the case; clicking on the classification links.

And of course, we could also search by just entering search terms into the classification search field, on the left-hand side above the navigation tree. I don't often use that way of searching, unless I know the classification terms used by FirstPoint. But, if we don't have either a case or legislative provision to start our search with, searching the classification list might be the best way of researching.

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