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Legal Citation

Legal Citation


What are Legal Citations?

Legal citations are brief references to cases, legislation, regulations, law review articles and other secondary sources, formulated according to an established set of rules.  They permit a writer to identify precisely material being discussed in a text while at the same time enable readers to locate the source material for themselves.  Sometimes citations contain additional information, which can be of assistance to a reader in determining whether to pursue the reference.   Top

Canadian Guide to Uniform Legal Citation, 8th Edition (the "McGill Guide"): 

The Canadian Guide to Uniform Legal Citation, 8th ed. (Toronto, Ont.: Carswell, 2014) is the recognized authority on legal citation, used by courts, law journals, universities, and legal practitioners across Canada.  It is published by the McGill Law Journal of McGill University.  Copies of the Canadian Guide to Uniform Legal Citation are available for short term loan at the John & Dotsa Bitove Family Law Library.  The Guide is NOT available online.    Top

Citing Cases:

The written decisions of judges and tribunals are collectively known as case law. These written judgments relate the legal concepts to the facts of the case, supplying the rationale for the decision rendered by the court.

An example of a case citation is:

            Beals v. Saldanha, 2003 SCC 72, [2003] 3 S.C.R. 416, 234 D.L.R. (4th) 1.

Breaking down the general form into its parts,

┌   style of cause               ┌ neutral cite ┐                 ┌ traditional publication cite

Beals v. Saldanha,                2003 SCC 72,             [2003] 3 S.C.R. 416, 234 D.L.R. (4th) 1.

the citation provides the following information about the case: 

  • "style of cause", also known as the "title of proceedings" (the parties' names in the action or application etc.), for example,

Beals v. Saldanha

  • the year the decision was rendered, for example, 


  • neutral citation (combining: year + tribunal identifier + ordinal number of the decision) for example,

2003 SCC 72

indicating a decision rendered in the year 2003 by the Supreme Court of Canada which was the court's 72nd judgment in 2003 

  • traditional publication citation (combining: volume number + reporter title + series + page on which the case begins), for example,

234 D.L.R. (4th) 1 

indicating volume 234 of the Dominion Law Reports, 4th series, starting at page 1.

  • the jurisdiction and court level (only necessary, when it is not already obvious from the first of the reference what the court is). (not necessary in this example because the SCC identifier tells you this is the Supreme Court of Canada).           Top


Citing Legislation:

Legislation refers to statutes of both the federal and provincial governments as well as subordinate legislation such as regulations, by-laws and orders-in-council.

In its general form, a statute citation will include: the statute title; the statute volume; the jurisdiction; year; session or supplement information (if applicable); the chapter number and; a pinpoint reference (if applicable).

An example of a federal statute citation is:

Income Tax Act, R.S.C. 1985 (5th Supp.), c.1, s.18 (1)(m)(iv).

An example of a provincial statute citation is:

Children's Law Reform Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. C-12.        Top

Citing Secondary Sources:

Secondary sources are an important source of legal information. They provide a broad overview of an area of law, providing references to leading cases and relevant statutes as well as other texts, treatises and articles. Secondary sources include: textbooks, loose-leaf services, encyclopaedias, journal articles, conference papers, legal dictionaries and more.

In its general form, journal article citations include: the author; the title of the article; the year of the article; volume number; the abbreviation of the journal; the starting page of the article and ; the pinpoint reference (if applicable).

An example of a journal article citation is:

Orit Fischman Afori, "Copyright Infringement without Copying: Reflections on the Théberge Case" (2007-2008) 39 Ottawa L. Rev. 23.

In its general form, book citations include: the author; the title; the edition (if applicable); other elements (including editor or compiler, name of the translator, the number of the cited volume, volume title, series title, loose-leaf etc.); the place of publication; the publisher; the year of publication and; a pinpoint reference (if applicable).

An example of book citation is:

Peter Leyland, The Constitution of the United Kingdom: A Contextual Analysis (Oxford: Hart Publishing, 2007).