Citation to the Courts

Legal citation to the courts for the past few years has, in some jurisdictions, been different than legal citation in academic works. Here in Alberta, on November 12, 2013 there was a Notice to the Profession from the Court of Queen’s Bench adopting the 7th edition of the Canadian Guide to Uniform Legal Citation (Toronto: Carswell, 2010). There is a lovely example of a law library’s description of the Guide (aka the McGill Guide) from the Lederman Law Library (Queen’s U).

Bob’s column this month references the incongruity of law students being responsible for editorial oversight of law reviews, I have often wondered why students have had responsibility for oversight of legal citation. Someone has to do this work though, and kudos to the McGill students who have provided a standard for Canadian scholarly works. Note: “scholarly works”. The 7th edition of the Guide spurred many Slaw posts discussing legal citation and plenty of comments as well.

Each Court in Canada has the ability to choose or define its own citation standard. Some were early adopters of the McGill Guide and the new editions become embedded by default. There is a Canadian Citation Committee which published a 2002 guide for uniform preparation of judgments. Part of the Canadian Judicial Council, the Committee updated its work in 2009 with The Preparation, Citation and Distribution of Canadian Decisions, which says:

4.3 Citation to Case law
[61] When citing a case, include its neutral citation, if it has one. If you add parallel citations place them after the neutral citation, which should immediately follow the case name.
Smith v. Jones, 2006 NBQB 435, 87 D.L.R. (4th) 334, [2006] N.B.J. No. 198 (QL).
[62] Add pinpoint references to paragraph numbers where available, preceded by “at para.” or “at paras.”
Smith v. Jones, 2006 NBQB 435 at paras. 34 and 36-39.

The above could have been a sample copied from the McGill Guide, 6th edition. McGill Guide, 7th says strip out the periods and make the citation punctuation free. I used to say the key is to be consistent, but I am no longer correct on that for citing to the ABQB.

The Canadian Citation Committee is no longer listed as a standing or ad hoc committee of the Canadian Judicial Council and the word “citation” doesn’t even appear in their 2012-2013 Annual Report. The 2009 judicial council suggestion on citation has been overshadowed by a document edited by students.

Where does it leave the bench and bar on legal citation to the courts? Without a national standard. Perhaps the 8th edition of the McGill Guide, which will be released sometime in 2014, will be adopted by all. For now, look local, but by all means, think national.

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