Legal Citations – Case Citations

Of all the legal citation formats, case law citations demand the most attention. Since court judgments are printed and reported in several different places (as opposed to, say, a journal article which typically is only published in one periodical), case law citations are unique because you must determine which source to cite.

Moreover, you must include both neutral and parallel citations as part of a case citation wherever possible. But what exactly are neutral and parallel citations? The remainder of the module will focus on these questions and others in an effort to explain the rationale (and the occasional confusion) behind case law citations.

Chapter 3 of the McGill Guide provides the rules governing the citation format for jurisprudence. You should note that the citation format for case law from other common law jurisdictions can differ markedly from that used for Canadian cases. When conducting legal research and writing legal memos, foreign and international case law may provide several sources of strong persuasive authority. As such, familiarize yourself with the variations between, for example, U.S. and Canadian case law citations in the McGill Guide.

In general, a proper Canadian case law citation is made up of:

Taken together and arranged properly, these four components constitute a complete case citation.

Always remember the following:

  1. Every case citation must provide the reader with certain information about a case:
    • The name or "style of cause” of the case;
    • The year of the decision;
    • The court level and jurisdiction; and
    • At least one caselaw reporter where the judgment can be found.

  2. Avoid redundancy!
    • Case citations are meant to provide the necessary information in a tight and efficient package. While sometimes it is acceptable to repeat information, this isn't always the case. As a rule of thumb, watch out for redundancies when dealing with:
      • The year of the decision; and
      • The court level and jurisdiction.

  3. Get to know the hierarchy: order and reporters matter!

A single judgment is often printed in several different case law reporters. Thus, there are usually many different reporters that you could cite to; however, not all reporters are equal. For example, you must cite to an "official” case law reporter wherever possible (more information on case law reporters and citation order will follow). The general rules and guidelines about the reporter hierarchy within case citations are explained in Chapter 3.1 of the McGill Guide.