FirstPoint: Where Did I Come From? Celebrating 80 Years of The Australian Digest
This year marks the eightieth year of The Australian Digest, from which FirstPoint has evolved.
The First Edition of The Australian Digest was published by The Law Book Co of Australasia Pty Limited in 1934. It digested reported decisions of the Australian courts and of Australian appeals to the Privy Council from 1825 to 1933. At that time, the publication was supervised by an Editor-in- Chief and Joint and State Editors who took advice from a Board of Consultants, which included a High Court Justice and several Kings Counsel.
There have been three formal editions of The Australian Digest. The passage of time has seen changes to its format: from the multiple volumes and annual book updates and permanent supplements of the First and Second Editions, to the current looseleaf format of the Third Edition. More recently, The Australian Digest has published as a CD; and it is currently online, powering FirstPoint, Thomson Reuters’ case law database.
The legal landscape has undergone many changes since the First Edition and The Australian Digest has developed to reflect those changes and to meet the evolving needs of the legal profession. Notably, the extensive and detailed classification scheme, which has been a feature of The Australian Digest since its inception, is constantly reviewed and updated.
For example, the First Edition contained 159 titles including titles such as Lunacy; Husband and Wife; and Immigration and Aliens. These subject areas are now reflected in the Third Edition titles of Mental Health; Family Law and Child Welfare; and Citizenship and Migration, respectively. Some early titles, such as Sugar, Stock or Sunday, are no longer present as individual titles in the Third Edition, which has been consolidated into 79 titles. Likewise, some Third Edition digest headings, such as Internet and Spam (in the Communications Law title), would have been beyond the imagination of lawyers and researchers using the First Edition.
Some concepts have changed little or have developed more slowly and this has been reflected in the current Australian Digest, by the retention of relevant case digests from judgments decided in the 19th and 20th centuries.
The Australian Digest classification scheme is well respected throughout the Australian legal profession. Many courts and tribunals in Australia use it as the basis for writing the catchwords on the cover sheets of their judgments. For example, the initial, capitalised court catchwords for Watpac Construction (Qld) Pty Ltd v KLM Group Ltd  QSC 236 mirror The Australian Digest classification scheme (CONTRACTS [279.6]):
CONTRACTS – BUILDING, ENGINEERING AND RELATED CONTRACTS – REMUNERATION – STATUTORY REGULATION OF ENTITLEMENT TO AND RECOVERY OF PROGRESS PAYMENTS – ADJUDICATION OF PAYMENT CLAIMS – where respondent and applicant entered into a contract for certain construction works – where respondent made payment claim pursuant the Building and Construction Industry Payments Act 2004 (Qld) – where the payment claim was referred to adjudication – where adjudicator ordered applicant to pay respondent – where applicant seeks judicial review of adjudicator’s decision on a number of grounds – where applicant contends adjudicator’s decision is affected by jurisdictional errors by misinterpreting the contract – whether a misinterpretation of the contract amounts to a jurisdictional error
Moreover, the Australian Institute of Judicial Administration recommends that court catchwords follow the scheme employed by The Australian Digest: see Olsson, The Hon Justice LT, Guide to Uniform Production of Judgments (2nd ed, Australian Institute of Judicial Administration Incorporated, 1999) at [4.2].
The Australian Digest has also been referred to in numerous judgments, which is a testament to its power as a research tool. For instance, in von Reisner v Chepurin  NSWCA 162, Young JA (at ) relied on his research using The Australian Digest when forming the view that the issue before him had not been the subject of any reported decision:
[Counsel] was unable to refer me to any previous decision where this particular point has been decided in a reported case or case noted in the Practice, and I myself was unable to find one, either in the Practice or in the Australian Digest. Accordingly, the matter must be approached on first principles.
One other change of note in the past 80 years is the increased output of published judgments from courts and tribunals around Australia. While the scope of The Australian Digest has remained constant since the beginning – relevant case digests of reported decisions from selected law report series – the volume of judgments which the Thomson Reuters’ cases team treats each day has significantly increased.
However, despite the passage of 80 years, The Australian Digest remains a pre-eminent player in the Australian legal research scene. It will continue as a relevant and highly respected publication, which responds to the needs of the legal profession in both a measured and innovative fashion.
Adam Weir and Diane Champion
Australian Digest Team