History and overview
The Council of Law Reporting in Victoria (the Council) is a statutory corporation operating under the Council of Law Reporting in Victoria Act (1967) (the Act).
Previously to the Act, there was an unincorporated council of legal practitioners alongside the Attorney General and Solicitor-General that commenced in 1875, who published the official law reports of cases of the Supreme Court until 1876. Since 1921, a Judge of the Supreme Court has Chaired and been a member of the Council. Starting as ‘Victorian Law Reports’ the series, since 1957, is known as the ‘Victorian Reports’, and reports on judicial decisions made in Victoria.
Records indicate that the Supreme Court Librarian has been actively involved in law reporting in Victoria since its inception, and since 1967 has been an ex officio member of the Council.
The primary objective of the Council is to manage the selection and reporting of significant judgments of any court under the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of Victoria. Under the Act, the Council has exclusive rights to publish and sell or authorise the publication and sale, of the reports, except for the purpose of news reporting.
Currently, the Council is engaged with six publishers and all publications are undertaken with the permission of the Council. The Council receives no funds from the government or any government agency and the costs required for administration are met through royalties or other fees paid by publishers.
Designated by the Act, members are volunteers. Ex officio members include a Supreme Court Judge (Chair), the Attorney General, the Solicitor General, the Supreme Court Librarian, along with representatives of the Victorian Bar and the Law Institute of Victoria.
The reports selection process
To publish the reports, the Council appoints a publisher, who engages an Editor selected by the Council. The Editor selects the decisions of the Supreme Court of Victoria for publication in the Victorian Reports. The publisher might engage Law Reporters to assist with the reporting process, as well as Assistant Editors, Consultant Editors and members of the profession on particular cases, if necessary.
A decision would be reported if it clarifies or addresses conflicting authorities, whether within the Supreme Court or as between Victoria and other jurisdictions; gives an authoritative interpretation of a provision of a new or important or frequently used statute; introduces a new principle or rule of law; is an important matter of practice or procedure or are otherwise instructive or helpful as a refresher on a technical area of law, and cases selected are those considered to be of enduring precedential value, selected independently of the Court or the Council itself.
The Editor endeavours to ensure that cases of national significance on federal law and uniform State and Territory are well covered, contributing to develop the national reputation of the Victorian Supreme Court as a venue for resolution of disputes and a consistent national body of law.
Three features, in particular, make the Victorian Reports valuable, being: the selection of cases which signals to practitioners and others that a case is of likely importance; the headnote which is a summary of the decision; and 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.
The publishing process
The Editor selects the material to be published and assigns a Reporter to create a headnote summarising the key elements of the decision. The publisher checks the text for grammatical errors and style consistency and the decision is then returned, along with the headnote, to the appropriate judge to check for errors that may have gone undetected, then approves the final version for publication.
Once settled, the case is published on a dedicated website www.victorianreports.com.au, and is provided to third parties with license agreements for publications on their proprietary platforms. Subscribers to the Victorian Reports website can elect to be notified when new cases are published.
When sufficient cases have been published online, these cases are collated into parts, approximately 120 pages in total, with several parts making up a bound volume. Between 3 and 4 volumes are published per year, each holding 20-30 cases. About 20% of the reports are criminal matters, whilst 80% are related to civil law. Nearly 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.
Decisions that are not selected for reporting in the Victorian Reports are called ‘unreported decisions’. Unreported decisions are on AustLII and JADE. Individual judges decide whether their decisions will be published to AustLII and JADE and the Law Library of Victoria provides the content to publishers very soon after its release to the parties.
Current publishers and priorities
Since March 2016 the Council entered an agreement with BarNet (the publishers of JADE) and its related company, Little William Bourke Pty Ltd, for the publication of the Victorian Reports. In addition to the publication of hard copies, the agreement provides for the online publication of Reported cases as each becomes available, on the website abovementioned. Once published, cases are available for purchase either digitally or in hard copy; individually or by subscription.
The agreement also provides for the Council to grant third-party licences to other publishers for the inclusion of the Victorian Reports on their database platforms, with royalty/fee revenue shared between the Council and Little William Bourke. To date, such licences have been granted to LexisNexis and Thomson Reuters.
Since the implementation of the Victorian Council’s reformed publishing model, NSW and Queensland have also introduced free or low-cost access to their State law reports. Under the auspices of the Consultative Council of Australasian Law Reporting, the three Councils now enable linking between each other’s websites directly to the relevant case thereby reducing some of the time and cost associated with legal research.
The Council works actively to foster the commercial viability of the Reports in a competitive global market. The quality and timeliness of the Reports have visibly improved since the new arrangement and the cost of production, royalty arrangements, and third party licence fees are closely scrutinised to low costs to users. To this end, the Council invests considerable effort in contractual oversight and in understanding the market, being described as an active and involved group.