This paper proposes a framework for the historical analysis of judicial decisions in financial reporting that may provide a basis for comparative research in the historical relation between the law and accounting. It is suggested that contract law may have been the dominant legal domain in which such judicial decisions were taken. To illustrate the approach, an analysis is presented of the development of judicial decisions on financial reporting in the Netherlands from the late nineteenth century to the second half of the twentieth century. It is found that contract law provided the dominant frame of reference for financial reporting cases. The overall development of contract law explains why, in substance, it was difficult for interested parties to challenge accounting policy choice in court. A tentative comparative conclusion is that this substantive position was quite comparable to that arrived at in the UK, despite the different legal setting. Further research should investigate whether the predominance of a contract-law view of financial reporting led to greater similarities in the legal understanding of financial reporting across the civil-law/common-law divide than is commonly supposed. © The Author(s) 2012.