Searching Help

SAFLII uses an Open Source search engine called SINO, developed by AustLII.

If you have never used an Internet search engine before you can have SINO do most of the work for you. A search engine is a computer program that presents you with a list of documents  that match the criteria which you specify. You specify the criteria in the form of 'show me all documents that have the words X, Y and Z in them'. You can narrow the criteria, for example: 'show me documents from Botswana High Court with the words X, Y and Z in them'.

The important thing to note is that the SINO search engine will return to you a list of documents that contain the words (or phrases) that you specify. Therefore you must choose your search words carefully. The best words (or phrases) to choose are those which are unique or particularly distinctive and are, of course, relevant to the subject matter of your query.
After choosing the unique or distinctive words for which you wish to search, type them into the search form. Now decide if you want to see documents that contain

  • any of the words listed (this will return the most results);
  • all of the words listed;
  • the words as a phrase (ie, in the exact order as typed); or
  • the words as a legislation name (ie Act or Regulation title);
  • the words as a case name (ie the names of the parties to a court/tribunal case);
  • the words as a document title.

Make your selection on the search form.

Finally, decide whether you wish to search across  all of the SAFLII databases, an individual database or a group of related databases (eg All Case Law Databases) and then make your selection(s) from the database list.

When ready, press Search. A list of documents will be returned to you. You can edit your search in the query box at the top of the screen, or you can use Back on your browser to return to the search screen in order to refine your search.

The SINO search engine will relevance rank the results by default, which means that the best matches will appear at the top of the list. You will obtain the best results when searching for unique or distinctive words or phrases.
Two additional search options which you will notice on the search form are using autosearch and this Boolean query. These are explained below.

Using Autosearch

If you are typing in a search from the SAFLII home page, the sytem will treat this as an AutoSearch type search. SAFLII will analyse the words for which you are searching and attempt to apply the correct search approach for you.

  • Boolean search
    Autosearch will recognise a boolean search by the presence of boolean operators in the words for which you are searching. So, if you use any of the following operators, and, or, near, w/10 etc, then AutoSearch will automatically treat the search as a Boolean search. If you do not want these words to be treated as boolean operators, you must put the phrase of which they are part in double quotation marks (ie "dogs and cats" and not dogs and cats). NOTE: Excessive placing of phrases in quotation marks can lead to very slow searching.
  • Case name search
    Autosearch will recognise a search which contains v, v., vs, vs. or re as a search for a case name. The search results will be restricted to documents containing the phrases on either side of these identifiers, or immediately after the re. So, for example, the following searches all work: Mngquibisa and Another v The State, State vs Mngquibisa,  In re: Dynamic Services (Pty) Limited and The Attorney General and Another, Re: Dynamic Services (Pty) Limited and The Attorney General and Another
  • Single phrase search
    Autosearch will recognise words enclosed in double quotation marks as a phrase search. So the words "cats and dogs" enclosed in double quotation marks will trigger a phrase search. Note that Autosearch can only deal with a single phrase in double quotation marks. If you want to search for two or more phrases, you will need to use a Boolean search instead.

Unless autosearch recognises your search as one of the above searches, it will default the search type to an any of these words search. Do not forget that you can override autosearch by explicitly choosing another search type.

Advanced (Boolean) Searches

If you do a search from the Advanced Search Pages, the system switches by default to boolean mode. The Advanced Search form also allows you to select several other common search types ("all of these words", "words in a document title" etc).
If you want more than one phrase or word to appear in the retrieved documents, put the boolean operator  and between them. For example, to find documents containing the phrase moral rights as well as the word copyright, you would type: moral rights and copyright.
If, on the other hand, you want to find either one term and/or another term, put an or between them. For example, to find documents which contain the words treaty, convention or international agreement you would type: treaty or convention or international agreement. If you wanted to, you could even put these two searches together - as in: (treaty or convention or international agreement) and moral rights and copyright
The use of round brackets helps the search engine determine which instructions to process first.
For more in-depth information see the Search Operators Chart and Common Words List (words that are not searchable unless included in quotation marks or searched for as a phrase).
If you want to find two words or phrases which appear fairly close to each other (for example, the parties to a case), you can use the near proximity operator. If you wanted to find cases where Smith sued (or was sued by) Brown, you would type: smith near brown.
The near proximity operator finds two words or phrases within 50 words of each other, occurring in any order. For information on the other proximity operators available, see the Search Operators Chart

Displaying Search Results

Once you have performed a search on SAFLII you will be presented with a page, or several pages, of results. At this point you may decide to further refine the display of your search results using the features of the SAFLII search results screen  which are described below.

As you can see from the search results  header above, the page displaying results of any SAFLII search offers four primary ways to display your results. We suggest that you experiment with the various ways in which your search results can be displayed.

By Relevance

'By Relevance' is the default results display which lists the results by the order of their likely relevance to the search request, with the most relevant results occurring first.
The Collapse Multi-sections | Show All Sections option makes search results which contain numerous references to legislation more readable by reducing the number of sections of an Act or clauses of a Regulation which are visible. If 'Collapse Multi-sections' is chosen, the only the name of the Act or Regulation and the name of the most relevant section or clause is displayed. The search can be further refined by restricting it to a single Act or regulation by clicking on 'More results from this legislation'. If 'Show All Sections' is chosen, every section or clause is shown and ranked separately.

By Date

The results are sorted by date order, most recent date displayed first (ie reverse chronological order). Legislation is displayed by the date the Act was passed or the Regulation made, not by the date on which a particular section or clause was amended. The Collapse Multi-sections | Show All Sections option is also available here. Caselaw is sorted and displayed by the date a judgment was handed down.

By Title

The results are sorted alphabetically by the title of the document, and displayed from a-z. The Collapse Multi-sections | Show All Sections option is available here. In addition, there is a Collapse Title option which groups the results together based on the first alphanumeric character in the title, that is, 'A' to 'Z' and then '0' to '9'.

By Database

The search results are displayed grouped into the databases on which they are located. The databases are displayed in the order in which they appear in SAFLII’s menu structure (not by number of results found in each).
To view the results from only one database, click on the number of documents next to the name of the database (Note: to see the results from all databases again, it is necessary to use the web browser's 'back' button).
The Collapse Listing | Expand Listing option is only available when using the 'By Database' display. 'Collapse Listing' will first collapse all results into groupings of databases by document type and jurisdiction. If used again it will collapse the databases into Country/Court Case Law Databases, Country Legislation Databases, etc. With this display option, all cases or all legislation can be chosen without using the Advanced Search page to choose database groupings. If the 'Expand Listing' option is then chosen, the process will be reversed.

Additional search results features

Repeat search over

At the top right of a results page, there is a panel which lists the 'Repeat search over' options which allow you repeat your AustLII search over other collections of data. The options are:

  • All SAFLII Databases: Searches for your search terms through all collections published on SAFLII.
  • Catalog & Websearch: Searches categories in the WorldLII Catalog, and full text of those catalogued web sites accessible to SAFLII's web spiders; takes you to the WorldLII results page.
  • WorldLII Databases: Searches all 660+ databases on the World Legal Information Institute (WorldLII); takes you to the WorldLII results page.
  • Law on Google: Converts the SAFLII search into the correct format for a Google search; adds terms to the SAFLII search to restrict it to law-related materials; executes the search on Google and takes you to the Google results page.

Number of results per page

Where all search results are displayed, an option at the top of a results page on the righthand-side allows you to choose between displaying 10, 20 (default), 50 or 100 results per page.