13 Law and legal references

13.2 Typography

13.2.1 Italics

Law uses more foreign—particularly Latin—words than many other subjects. For that reason law publishers may deviate from the usage of general reference works when determining which words and phrases to italicize. Only a handful of foreign-language law terms have become so common in English that they are set as roman in general use. Some publishers use this as a basis for determining styles: the well-known ‘inter alia’ and ‘prima facie’ are in roman, for example, but de jure and stare decisis are in italic. Others prefer to set all Latin words and phrases in italic, rather than appear inconsistent to readers immersed in the subject, for whom all the terms are familiar. Regardless of which policy is followed, words to be printed in roman rather than italic include the accepted abbreviations of ratio decidendi and obiter dictum/dicta: ‘ratio’, ‘obiter’, ‘dictum’, and ‘dicta’.

Traditionally, the names of the parties in case names are cited in italics, separated by an italic or roman ‘v.’ (for ‘versus’): Smith v. Jones. The ‘v.’ may have a full point: any style is acceptable if consistently applied.

13.2.2 Abbreviations

There are four possibilities regarding the use of full points in abbreviations:

  • • there should be no points at all, or no points only in legal abbreviations

  • • all points should be put in (‘Q.B.D.’)

  • • points should be in abbreviations of fewer than three letters (‘A.C.’)

  • • points should not appear between or after capitals, but should appear after abbreviations that consist of a mixture of upper- and lower-case letters (‘Ont. LJ’, ‘Ch. D’ but ‘QBD’, ‘AC’).

References, especially familiar ones, and common legal terms (paragraph, section), may be abbreviated in the text as well as in notes, but all other matter should be set out in full. Where a term is repeated frequently and is unwieldy when spelled out, such as ‘International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights’, then refer to it at first mention in full, with ‘(ICCPR)’ following it, and thereafter simply as ‘ICCPR’. Be careful that the abbreviations chosen do not confuse institutions with conventions (for example, use ‘ECHR’ for ‘European Convention on Human Rights’ and ‘ECtHR’ for ‘European Court of Human Rights’). Both the Court of Justice of the European Union and the European Court of Human Rights are frequently referred to as ‘the European Court’: the European Court of Human Rights should always be referred to in full, unless the text in question is specifically about human rights and there is no possibility of confusion.

In cases, use ‘Re’ rather than ‘In re’, ‘In the matter of’, etc. Abbreviate ex parte to ex p, with the letter e capitalized when it appears at the beginning of a case name but in lower case elsewhere:

R v. Acton Magistrates, ex p. McMullen

When citing a law report, generally do not include expressions such as ‘and another’ or ‘and others’ that may appear in the title, but use ‘and anor’, or ‘and ors’ in cases such as ‘Re P and ors (minors)’ to avoid the appearance of error. To avoid unnecessary repetition, shorten citations in the text following an initial use of the full name: ‘in Glebe Motors plc v Dixon-Greene’ could subsequently be shortened to ‘in the Glebe Motors case’. In criminal cases it is acceptable to abbreviate ‘in R v Caldwell’ to ‘in Caldwell’. Where a principle is known by the case from which it emerged, the name may no longer be italicized: for example, ‘the Wednesbury principle’.

Law notes tend to be fairly lengthy, so anything that can be abbreviated should be. Thus ‘HL’, ‘CA’, etc. are perfectly permissible, as are ‘s’, ‘Art’, ‘Reg’, ‘Dir’, %, all figures, ‘High Ct’, ‘Sup Ct’, ‘PC’, ‘Fam Div’, etc., even in narrative notes.

13.2.3 Capitalization

Capitalize ‘Act’, even in a non-specific reference; ‘bill’ is lower case except in the name of a specific bill. Unless it is beginning a sentence, ‘section’ always has a lower-case initial. ‘Article’ should be capitalized when it refers to supranational legislation (conventions, treaties, etc.) and lower case when it refers to national legislation.

‘Court’ with a capital should be used only when referring to international courts such as the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) and the International Court of Justice, or for relating information specific to a single court. For instance, in a book about the Court of Appeal, Criminal Division, that court may be referred to as ‘the Court’ throughout. It is a common shorthand convention in US law to refer to the Supreme Court as ‘the Court’ and to a lesser court as ‘the court’.

A capital may also be used in transcripts where a court is talking about itself, but not necessarily where it refers to itself in a different composition. Thus members of a Court of Appeal would refer to ‘a judgment of the Court’ when citing a previous judgment by themselves, but to ‘that court’ when referring to a Court of Appeal composed of others. Where, however, the reference is to a court in general, the c should always be lower case. For spelling of ‘judgment’ in legal contexts, see 13.8.

The word ‘judge’ should always begin with a lower-case letter, unless it is referring to a specific person’s title or the author has contrasted the Single Judge with the Full Court (as in criminal appeals and judicial review proceedings), where they both have specific parts to play and almost constitute separate courts in themselves.

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New Hart's Rules


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