Principles of Legal Citation

Legal citation is a standard language that lets us refer to legal authorities with sufficient precision and generality so that others can follow the references. Therefore during writing of any legal document, other sources or documents of authorities are always referred to. Every legal citation has to come under one of the following categories of citation principles.

  • Case citation
  • Legislative citation
  • Treaty citation
  • Government document citation
  • Law periodical citation
  • There are three different purposes behind any citation or reference; the first is for the identification of the document that the writer is referring to. The second point is that the reader must get the required information from the reference to find the document from available source. And finally the citation has to furnish important additional information about the referenced material, so that the reader can decide whether to pursue the reference or not.

    Law professional always have to decorate their arguments with good legal citations that usually include supporting references to statutes, regulations, and prior appellate decisions besides secondary reference like treatises, restatements, and journal articles. Legal citation writing is a form of technical writing in itself that is a little difficult to master. In the USA, the ALWD Citation Manual: A Professional System of Citation (3d ed. 2006) made by the Association of Legal Writing Directors is well accepted in law schools.

    The four detailed principles of citations come under the following categories.

    Full Address Principles: Principles that specify completeness of the address / document ID or document portion in terms that will allow the reader to retrieve it.

    Minimum Content Principles: : Principles that call for the inclusion in a citation of additional information items beyond a retrieval address – the full name of the author of a journal article, the year a decision was rendered or a statutory codification last updated. Some of these principles are conditional.

    Compacting Principles: : These include standard abbreviations (“United States Code” becomes “U.S.C.”) and principles that eliminate redundancy.

    Format Principles: : Principles about punctuation, typography, order of items within a citation, etc

    Case citations are used by the common law countries to find the location of past court cases. The citation standard varies from country to country. Following is a list of citation standards used by the respective countries.

  • AGLC – Australian guide to legal Citation
  • Statutory Instruments Practice – United Kingdom
  • McGill Guide – Canadian
  • ALWD Citation Manual / Bluebook – -USA
  • Leidraad – Dutch