Butterworths Concise Australian Legal Dictionary

Editors: The Honourable Dr Peter E Nygh & Peter Butt

Published by Butterworths, Australia (1997)

ISBN: 0-409-31568-0

pp: 512 plus xxxi


By Peter Murgatroyd, Law Librarian, University of the South Pacific





The efforts of Butterworths to produce a legal dictionary that is distinctively Australian in focus and content should be applauded. There is an increasing need to recognise the unique flavour of the developing common law in the Pacific. Increasingly reliance is placed upon decisions emanating from the region. With approximately 8000 entries, the dictionary covers standard legal terms, principles from important cases, and the more common Latin phrases. The dictionary also provides clear definitions of many everyday words and phrases that may sometimes appear in a legal context. Extensive cross-referencing is also a welcome feature. Throughout there are extensive references to Australian case law and legislation making it an invaluable reference tool – a mini-encyclopedia of sorts. Biographical details of prominent Australian Justices are also included.

Words and phrases are defined from within a contemporary Australian context including some very recent and idiomatic additions to the vernacular (e.g. ‘salami shaving’). The distinctively Australian focus however can be misleading for those outside Australia. For example ‘customary affiliation with land’ is defined solely in relation to Torres Strait Islanders, and from a contemporary Pacific viewpoint the dictionary’s definition of ‘custom’ is arguable and not supported by case references.

The editors have clearly gone to considerable lengths to ensure that the dictionary is one that can be used and enjoyed by the novice student of law as well as the seasoned practitioner. The Butterworths Concise Australian Legal Dictionary is well laid out and easy to follow. The editors have employed a ‘plain English’ approach making it particularly useful for new students of law and others who may be unfamiliar with legal terminology.

The dictionary is prefaced by an easy-to-follow user’s guide and also contains several useful appendices. In addition to a table of law reports there is also a listing of popular case names with the full case title and citation. The full text of the Australian Constitution is an additional bonus.

The Butterworths Concise Australian Legal Dictionary is a brightly packaged and affordable quality work that is particularly well suited to undergraduate law students but that would also be a useful working tool for many outside the legal fraternity.