You need to identify past court decisions – case law – that is relevant to your case. The most useful free resource to look up case law is CanLII. This is a free database of thousands of court cases in Canada through time. It does not have every decision ever made in Canada, but for most legal research it is a great resource. However, it can be difficult on CanLII to figure out if a case has been “overturned”.
There are also paid databases, such as Quicklaw and Westlaw. These have more cases than CanLII, and can tell you easily whether a decision has been overturned. It is very expensive to get access to these databases on your own. If you go to a law library they have public computers that can access these Canadian court cases databases.
Researching case law is hard and time consuming. However, it is a necessary part of good research. You should have two goals in searching for relevant cases.
- Find the most important, leading cases. There are certain cases that come up again and again, because they set out the key ideas in an area of law. They are often going to be decisions of the Supreme Court of Canada or the British Columbia Court of Appeal. If you see a case that is mentioned many times when doing your research, reading it carefully to understand why it is important.
- Find cases with facts similar to yours. Think about what makes your case unique. Then look for cases with a similar situation. Use the keyword search tool to specify an important issue and limit the number of cases you need to review.
Use the Family Law Research Worksheet to help organize your work. Consider your case and the legal arguments you need to make. For each of your key issues – like parenting arrangements, support and property division – identify the law that applies, as well as relevant case law and describe why it is relevant.
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