Australia will argue Japan's whaling activities have breached international obligations when it lodges a written submission with the International Court of Justice in The Hague.
The filing of "the memorial" on Monday was the next step in the case to put an end to Japan's whaling programme in the Southern Ocean, Attorney-General Robert McClelland said in a joint statement with Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd and Environment Minister Tony Burke.
In particular, Japan had breached the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, they said.
"Despite Australia repeatedly calling on Japan to cease its illegal whaling activities, Japan has refused to do so," the ministers said in a statement.
That was why the government had taken its case to the International Court of Justice.
The decision to launch legal proceedings a year was not taken lightly, the ministers said.
"The government disagrees with Japan's decision to continue whaling and this is the proper way to settle legal differences between friends," they said.
In its submission, Australia argues that Japan is in breach of the general prohibition under the convention on commercial whaling as well as a prohibition on commercial whaling in the Southern Ocean sanctuary.
Japan has sought to rely on an exception to the convention by claiming its activities are for scientific research.
"The government believes the whaling carried out by Japan is commercial, not scientific, and does not fall within that narrow exception," the ministers said.
The submission remains confidential until the court orders its public release, likely at the first oral hearing of the case.
Japan must file its counter-memorial by March 9, 2012.
In March, the court accepted the nomination of Professor Hilary Charlesworth as Australia's ad-hoc judge in the case.