“I can’t find this case. I think it might be unreported.”
We get a lot of requests at the library for help in finding a specific case. Here are the steps to figuring out if the case is unreported, and what to do about it:
1. Have you checked CanLII, Quicklaw, and Westlaw?
There is no one complete source for reported decisions. Finding decisions would be much easier if there were, but unfortunately there are some cases that Quicklaw will have, and Westlaw won’t, and vice versa. As the CCLA Library has both Westlaw and Quicklaw, you can always check with us to see if the case is available on any of these services. As always, there’s no charge for this. Sometimes the source you see noting the case will say it’s unreported – it’s still worth it to check. Cases have a way of showing up online well after they were declared “unreported,” and it’s an easy enough check to make before you go into the next steps.
2. Is it foreign? Only available in a print reporter?
This next step is another where it’s good to run it by us at the Library. Often times, people are actually looking for British cases and don’t realize it. Or, the case might be available, but only in old print reporters. We can quickly and easily check on these options for you.
3. The decision is truly unreported.
In the event that the decision you’re after is truly unreported, there are a few options:
- Contact counsel from the case
- This is an option that skirts the following process with the courts, if you’re comfortable doing this.
- For Ottawa decisions:
- The Ottawa Courthouse retains case files until the matter is closed. Contact the correct court (civil, family, or criminal) and request a copy.
- After a period of time, case files are sent to the Records Centre of the Ministry of Government Services in Cooksville. The court here will recall that document for you – you cannot go to them directly.
- You will need to pay a recall fee (currently $61.00) at the courthouse to bring the file back. There is also a viewing fee (currently $10.00) to look at the file once here. If you were a party to the file, you can view it for free (but still have the pay the recall fee). You may make a photocopy of the file at the counter (bring change: their copier accepts coins).
- For decisions from elsewhere in Ontario:
- The retention schedule for other courthouses may vary. If you need to get in touch with a courthouse in another area, you can find their phone numbers here.
- The Ottawa courthouse cannot recall these files for you.
4. Bonus! “I don’t know where this case was heard originally.”
This definitely comes up from time to time – a case is unreported, and you’re not sure where the decision was actually handed down, thus not being able to contact the courthouse. If you don’t know already and can’t figure it out from what you’ve been told or the context you found the case in, you can also come to us for help. Here is what we would check to see if you had available:
- Judge’s name
- Counsel’s name
- Any news stories that might shed light on the location or other identifying information
- Details from the Higher Court decision (if looking for the unreported Lower Court decision)
Related, here are a few links relevant to carrying out legal research with hard to find documents:
- Criminal Justice Records at the Archives of Ontario (Archives of Ontario)
- How to Find a Will in Court Records (Archives of Ontario)
- Finding Divorce Files in Ontario (Archives of Ontario)
- Unreported British Columbia Decisions, 1881 – Present (Courthouse Libraries BC)