All legal information can be described as either primary or secondary. Primary information is legislation and case law. Secondary information helps you find and understand the law. This is an important concept in learning how to approach legal research. Knowing if you are looking for primary or secondary information will help to select the best source for your search strategy.
Primary information can be divided into three types.
This includes Acts of Parliament, legislative instruments and delegated legislation.
2. Case law
Judicial decisions made by judges. Significant decisions are published in law reports.
International treaties entered into by New Zealand are primary sources.
Secondary sources can be divided into two types.
1. Finding aids
These are sources that assist the researcher to find information or provide pathways to other sources. Examples include legal dictionaries, bibliographic databases, indexes and citators.
In these sources you will find a discussions about the law. Examples include entries in legal encyclopaedias, texts on specific topics, articles in law journals and government reports. These sources will include references to other relevant primary and secondary sources.
When undertaking legal research expect to use both print and electronic sources. However, where you begin your research will depend on the research question and the information you are trying to locate. For example, a recently published text on the general area of law can be a useful starting point. Use the references cited to locate other relevant commentary or case law. In this scenario, begin with a general search on Te Waharoa for a book, a secondary source, note the location in the library and go to the shelf to look at the book. Take the time to look at the other books with a similar call mark. They may also be useful for your research. Read the relevant section of the book, take notes and be aware of references to other texts, journal articles or cases. If they are of interest locate them. Use the following guide to decide where to search.