Canadian law report citations are riddled with “full stops”, more commonly referred to as “periods”, all of which are completely unnecessary. Needless to say, there are crusaders amongst us who would do away with them altogether, sooner rather than later.
I will admit to having been the unwitting source of a number of the offending citations. In the development of Carswell’s series of topical law reports, an official citation was required for each of them. By tradition, it is the publisher who determines what the citation shall be and how it is to be styled. That task fell to me.
My mentor at the time told me that the way it was done was to check lists of law report citations and develop something similar to, but different from, what had been done before. Unfortunately, I was directed to a list of English and Commonwealth law report citations which are riddled with periods and not to American lists which are largely period free.
Following the English practice, the decision made was to include a period after the abbreviation for every key word in the title of the each law report series. The unfortunate consequence of this decision was thousands upon thousands of unnecessary key strokes in setting type and endless hours of citation checking to ensure that the periods were all in their proper places. What a waste!
Editorial standards serve a purpose
In print, editors review every citation in a manuscript to ensure that all of the elements are present and that every date, letter, bracket, comma or period is in its proper place. While this work appears to be of comparatively little importance to the average reader, it in fact plays a critical role in transforming mere words on a page into an authoritative (or at least “authoritative looking”) statement of the law.
Confidence in the substance of a piece of writing can be undermined by poor presentation. In my early days in legal publishing, I observed manuscripts that superficially appeared to be of inferior quality being transformed by editors into publications of importance when the distractions caused by poor grammar and incomplete references to sources were eliminated.
Jewels of legal thought and analysis are sometimes revealed when the rules of citation established by style guides such as the McGill Guide and the publisher’s own style guide are systematically incorporated into the final version of a document or legal text. This result is not achieved by the addition of periods per se, but rather by the consistent implementation of editorial standards which at the present time include the use of periods.
A brave new world without full stops
Online searching no longer requires the use of periods in a citation to find documents with case references that include periods. While technology makes it possible to ignore the existence or otherwise of a period in a case citation, technology does not eliminate the need for editorial standards in a document or text.
It has been suggested that online documents can let it all hang out and that the editorial standards established for the print world are not relevant in the online world. I don’t think it is that simple. Editorial standards serve the same purpose in the online environment as they do in the print world, i.e they enhance the authority of the document and the credibility of its author.
One way in which change may be achieved is by a shift in the content of the style guides to endorse the elimination of periods in citations, provided that the periods are eliminated from all of the citations in a document or text. Publishers also have the option of stating that a case reported in a particular series of law reports may be cited without periods. In this way, editorial standards would be maintained. It would simply be a different set of standards.
Getting “buy-in” from judges, authors and publishers to implement the change is the next step. This step should be fairly easy given that is much easier to remember not to include periods than it is to remember to get them all in the right place.