Copies of Cases for Court – Official Print Reporters Versus Online Versions

Three or four times in the last week I have had discussions with various people on the issue of the versions of copies of court cases that are provided to the court in a book of authorities – are you required to provide a photocopy of the case from an official (or unofficial) print version of the case or is it acceptable to provide a printout of an online version from one of the commercial databases or from CanLII?

A decade or more ago – when online versions of judgments did not always format well or may not have contained paragraph numbering – I could see the reason to prefer copies of the print version. However, these factors are largely inapplicable today. The Supreme Court of Canada itself in a Notice to the Profession from an October 2006 2000 Bulletin (available here as pages 143-44 of a 149 page PDF document) specifically acknowledged the acceptability of electronic versions of their decisions (and decisions of other courts) in these terms:

In recent years, electronic legal research databases have come to be relied upon extensively by the legal profession. The Court makes electronic versions of Supreme Court judgments available on the Internet through a direct link from its website ( make Supreme Court of Canada judgments easier to reference, on January 1, 2000, the Court started using the neutral citation standard on its judgments. The neutral citation (for example, Arsenault-Cameron v. Prince Edward Island, 2000 SCC 1) is assigned to each decision as it is rendered.

The following guidelines are given to assist counsel in preparing memorandums of argument, factums and books of authorities:

1. When citing Supreme Court of Canada decisions, please use the Supreme Court Reports (S.C.R.) citation.

2. Supreme Court decisions rendered after January 1, 1995 may be cited to an electronic version if the paragraph numbering of the electronic version is consistent with the numbering adopted by the Court. The S.C.R. citation should be provided followed by the electronic version reference. For decisions not yet reported in the S.C.R., the neutral citation should be provided followed by the electronic version reference.

Counsel may cite decisions from other courts using print sources or reliable electronic databases.

When a decision is cited to an electronic version, paragraph numbers should be used for pinpoint references.

3. A printout of the relevant excerpts of all documents cited electronically must be provided in counsel’s book of authorities.

If the Supreme Court of Canada allows it, it makes it difficult for judges of lower courts to somehow insist on print versions (and my suspicion is that it is not necessarily the lower court judges insisting on this but “older” lawyers not adjusting as easily to the new format). The one exception I am prepared to make in favour of print over online is where the online version does not have paragraph numbering.

If SLAW readers are aware of other notices to the profession from other courts on this point of the acceptability of online versus print judgments, I would welcome comments in that regard.


  1. In Alberta it has been acceptable for quite some time to submit authorities as either printouts or photocopies, as long as they are reliable and contain the appropriate information. The permissibility of electronic copies was confirmed in a couple of practice directions or notices to the profession five years ago, by both the Court of Appeal and the Court of Queen’s Bench:

  2. The Ontario Court of Appeal allows printouts from CanLII etc. and has done since 2003 S.10.5 of their practice directions reads:

    Copies of cases obtained from internet legal reporting services or other electronic databases are acceptable provided the report of the judgment contains paragraph numeration consistent with the numbering of the paragraphs in the judgment as released by the court. Counsel should be aware that judgments posted on the internet may be subject to correction or editing within a few days of the initial posting and accordingly counsel should ensure that a judgment so obtained has not been subsequently amended. Citations of any published versions should be given in addition to the citation of the electronic source. The date that the copy of the decision was obtained should be included if it was obtained from an internet or online source.

  3. The Alberta Court of Appeal allows electronic cases in books of authorities – read the practice note here.

    The Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench also accepts electronic case citations, and has since February 1, 2002.

  4. So far as I know, there are no practice directions on this subject in Manitoba (though the Court of Appeal does have a practice direction on the use of neutral citations).

    Personally, I agree with Ted – online versions are acceptable so long as they have paragraph numbers (which correspond to the paragraph numbers utilized in the official court judgment). Where the online decision does not contain paragraph numbers, then I rely on a printed source.

    Since we’re on the subject, I will share what I consider to be a related pet peeve –> I know it’s handy that the electronic databases allow you to put your search terms in bold. In my opinion, those print-outs should not be filed with the court. In casebooks or books of authorities, a plain version of the print-out should be provided, with only the relevant portions highlighted. Sometimes the bold search terms are distracting; other times they are a bit too revealing about the lawyer’s research strategy. But again, that’s just my personal opinion.

  5. I am doing an informal survey of law firms through the TALL listserv as to how many law firms still subscribe to print reporters and how many rely on e-copies. The responses are still coming in, so I should have something to post within the week.

  6. The BC Court of Appeal has a practice directive that addresses this:

    “Citation of Authorities”

    See para 5:

    While citations must be to a reported series where available, copies provided to the Court may be from an alternate electronic database. However, copies from alternate electronic sources may be provided only if the decision published in the reporter series contains numbered paragraphs and the paragraph numbering is the same in the electronic source as in the reported series.

    For decisions from the past decade or so, this is pretty much a non-issue. But for older decisions, it can be time consuming making sure the paragraph numbering matches. I can definitely see that it reduces confusion, but it can sure be a lot of work!

  7. As much I know about the practice in Indian courts, while there is no such official rule or word on that, the practice goes that almost all material which is cited or relied upon is handed in print version.
    While electronic evidence has been made admissible after a 2000 amendment in Indian Evidence Act, 1872, still the parties have to give a printed version of such evidence for it to be marked as exhibits.
    As regarding the source of printed or photocopied versions, it seems that there is not much of an insistence on getting the photocopies only from official reporters. Printed versions from online resources and virtual law libraries are also acceptable.