Citation of legislation and case law
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This article describes the standard procedure for citation of legislation and court cases.
Public General Acts of Parliament
Because Acts of Parliament are issued annually, each new Act is considered a 'chapter' in the annual volume. Hence, to cite an Act fully, the year and chapter number should be provided. Until 1963, the year was expressed in terms of the regnal years of the current monarch (a practice which goes back as far as ancient Egypt). In the (likely) event of the reign not beginning on January 1st, a calendar year would encompass two regnal years, and both would be given in the citation. So the year 1959 would be written as '78 Eliz.2', as that year constituted the end of the 7th and beginning of the 8th years of the reign of Elizabeth II. However, since 1963, calendar years have been used. The chapter number is preceded by the letter 'C'. It is also acceptable to cite the year and title of the Act. So, for instance, '1965 C 31' and 'the Solicitors Act (1965)' refer to the same thing.
Local and Private Acts of Parliament
These are conventionally cited the same way as Public General Acts, but with the chapter number in roman numerals.
These are cited by year, number and title, for example, 'SI 1965 no. 2063 Motorways Traffic (Temporary Speed Limit)(England and Wales) Regulations'. It is also acceptable to give the year and number ('SI 1965/2063') but not always helpful.
It may seem odd that in a legal system such as England's, so dependent upon the principle of precedent, that there should be no state-sanctioned system for reporting the outcome of court cases. But this is precisely how it is under English law. The most authoritative source for case law is generally thought to be the 'Law Reports' series issued by the Council of Law Reporting. Other such publications exist as well. In any event, it is standard practice to cite cases as follows: case-name (year) volume report-series page. Note that it is not uncommon to cite multiple sources where they exist. Strictly speaking, the case name is unnecessary if the rest of the reference is clear (which, of course, it should be). There is, therefore, some variation in the way the case name may be given.
For civil cases the case name is usually the names of the parties, e.g., 'Smith v Brown'. Typically the claimant (or plaintiff) is named first, but there was a time when it was conventional to name the appellant first in appeals cases, with this order effectively reversed. In trust or probate cases, particularly where the action is started by an originating summons, the claimant and defendants are often not named at all (because there may be many parties to the action), so we'll see, e.g., 'Re Smith' or 'In re Smith'.
Criminal cases are usually cited as 'R v Smith', although 'DPP v Smith' is not unusual for cases conducted by the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions. In earlier cases, the case name may include the name of the specific prosecutor. As with civil cases, it was formerly common to reverse the names of the parties in an appeals case. Where there are multiple parties on both sides they may either be named in full or else shortened to simply 'others'. Minors are not normally named at all, as may be seen, for instance, in 'Eliot v C (a minor)'.
Administrative law cases are usually cited as follows: 'R v Smith ex parte Brown' or 'R (on the application of Brown) v Smith'.
In cases involving ships, it is not unusual to cite the name of the ship (plus a number if there is more than one case concerning the named ship in the same year) rather than the name of the parties.
The year in which a case is decided is conventionally given in parentheses where the volume numbers are unambiguous, and in square brackets where the volume numbers are only meaningful in the context of a particular year (which is more common in modern reports).
The report series is the name (or more often, the abbreviation) of the publication in which the report appears. (See the article on the law reports for details of the citation scheme.) In very early cases (prior to the formation of the ICLR) the report series may be cited as the name of the reporter; there are standard abbreviations for most of the well-known reporters.