The proper citation and referencing of your paper is part of the development of legal writing skills. Get used to following the OSCOLA system and you will soon find that referencing your work will cease to be a chore. This section of the guide is concerned with the normal conventions applicable to the preparation of a typescript. The authoritative guide to your citations is The Oxford Standard for the Citation of Legal Authorities, (known as OSCOLA) which the law school has adopted as the required form for the citation of sources in all written work by undergraduates, taught postgraduates and research students. You will need to have a copy of that guide to hand when you are undertaking your writing.
Footnoting involves the insertion of superscript numbers in the main body of the text which are expanded into full references in notes appearing at the foot of each page. Unlike legal writing in the United States, where there are rigid rules which are slavishly followed, most United Kingdom writing adopts a much more flexible approach to citing legal materials. This does not mean that you can be sloppy in your referencing. It simply means that there is often more than one acceptable method of citing particular sources. Learn the OSCOLA system which we have adopted and no one will criticize your referencing of sources.
The convention on the use of full stops in abbreviations can vary. OSCOLA states, ‘Abbreviations, whether in text or footnotes, are not marked by full stops.’ Throughout this guide the use of full stops has been avoided as much as possible. You are probably already familiar with the conventions concerning the use of square brackets and round brackets (parentheses). This is an important aspect of proper referencing which is often ignored. The general rule is that square brackets are used for the year both for case citations and journal citations where the year is needed in order to be able to find the volume. Round brackets are used where the year is for information because the law report or journal has a continuous system of volume numbering.
Footnotes should be kept brief and to a minimum. Their main purpose is to point the reader to the authority for propositions contained in the text. Sometimes footnotes are used to contain a comment which is not central to the main discussion in the text, but which is nevertheless helpful in developing the argument to the full. On occasion it is useful to relegate some points of detail to footnotes, but this should not be overdone.
Footnotes should be numbered consecutively throughout your essay using Arabic numerals, and appear at the foot of each page. You will find that standard word processing packages perform this task for you. Good, clear and accurate footnotes undoubtedly create a favourable impression in any research work.
There are a number of useful abbreviations, which explain where an authority can be found, or is cited in full.
The most frequently met are defined below.
ibid – This is the Latin for ‘ibidem’, meaning ‘the same’; it does not appear in italics. Use only when a
citation is to the same authority as the immediately preceding citation in the same footnote, or
a previous footnote, and only where the previous footnote contains only one authority. In all
other cases use ‘above’:
Clare Ovey and Robin White, The European Convention on Human Rights (4th ed., Oxford
University Press, Oxford 2006)
above – This term indicates that the authority is cited fully at an earlier point, to which reference should
Ovey and White n 4 above 248.
Do not use ‘above’ for citations to cases or statutory material. If a case is cited frequently, it
may not be necessary to repeat the citation in a footnote every time it is mentioned. There is
no standard rule here. It might be helpful in some cases to include an abbreviated reference to
the case in a table of abbreviations. Use your common sense and ask yourself whether it would
help or annoy the reader to be referred to a footnote merely repeating the citation to the
source. Specific quotations from judgments should always be footnoted.
below – This signal is used if a point is discussed later in your paper. You may wish to provide more
guidance on where the material appears.
op cit – This abbreviation is commonly used and is not italicised. Avoid the use of this locator. It stands
for opere citato and means ‘in the work cited’. It is used to refer to a work whose full citation
has been given earlier. It is often used as an alternative to ‘above’. The use of ‘above’ is to be
preferred because it always refers back to the location of the earlier citation making for ease of
loc cit – This stands for loco citato which means ‘at the place quoted’. It is used similarly to ‘op. cit.’ and
its use should likewise be avoided.
passim – This means ‘here and there’. The term is used if no particularly section of the cited authority is
precisely in point, but there are useful comments here and there throughout the cited
authority. It indicates to a reader that not every part of the authority need be read, only those parts relevant to the matter under discussion. The term is never used alone, only in conjunction
with a full reference to the particular source.