Wikipedia:Manual of Style/Legal

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Wikipedia articles on legal topics should reflect appropriate style for an encyclopedia. Because Wikipedia is not written for courts or legal experts more than for anyone else, standard legal styling does not always apply. Editors should always provide depth and detail appropriate to an encyclopedia. Even where a topic is technical and primarily covered for interest to legal scholars, articles on legal topics should still aim for plain language that is understandable to the widest possible audience. The article should strive to take naïve readers as far as possible.[a]


General considerations[edit]

  • Legal case names are always italicized (Plessy v. Ferguson).
  • In article text (for citations, see below), the first mention of a case should normally be formatted as A v. B. Cases from some jurisdictions, particularly those within the United Kingdom, use A v B. When referred to a second or third time within a section, cases may be referred to as A, or, if A does not disambiguate (e.g. Rex), B.
  • Do not capitalize distinct words like Act, Bill and Court as a form of special emphasis (see MOS:INSTITUTIONS). Any full title should be capitalized as usual, as in Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1976.[b]
  • For Latin words and phrases, consider wiki-linking at the first appearance of the phrase, and using {{Lang}} throughout: {{Lang|La|[[Nolo contendere]]}}. This results in Nolo contendere. (See MOS:LANG.)


Article titles[edit]

Articles should be titled according to their commonly recognizable names.[c] For subjects that have wide coverage outside of legal scholarship the common name may not be the same as recorded in academic and court stylings. For example, R v Aubrey, Berry and Campbell is better known as the ABC trial.


Articles on cases that are primarily notable for the legal precedent they set, or are primarily discussed within legal scholarship, should be titled according to the legal citation convention for the jurisdiction that handled the case. However, do not adjust a name that is common within legal citations to conform with contemporary style guides. For example, where the Crown is appropriately abbreviated to "R", as in R v Dudley and Stephens, case names like Rex v. Scofield or Tuckiar v The King should not be abbreviated.

Criminal trials that are notable for the people or crimes involved, not for the legal precedent they set, should be titled "Trial of (defendant)" or another commonly recognizable name. Examples include Trial of Saddam Hussein, O. J. Simpson robbery case and Trial of Susan B. Anthony.[d]

Article content[edit]

Broad areas of law[edit]

  • If the article topic is fully within one legal system, indicate that legal system, e.g., civil law, sharia law, common law, customary law.
  • Articles about broad areas of law, such as Tort, should contain an overview of the law as it stands, and its development.
  • In articles with topics that cover multiple jurisdictions, such as multiple states or multiple countries, aim to provide a general overview for all jurisdictions. Within different legal systems, the law may have evolved in divergent ways. Because the law differs between jurisdictions, make clear what jurisdiction you are writing about. Try to incorporate a comparative perspective, if possible and appropriate. Use separate section headers when providing specifics as to a jurisdiction or system.
  • Avoid becoming overly technical.

Writing about particular cases[edit]

  • Start with a summary why the case is encyclopedic. What is its impact on society, what makes it stand out from all the other cases heard this year?
  • Write the summary in fairly plain language, for a lay audience, possibly followed by a more detailed introduction. For those who do not read the whole decision, this is sufficient for a start.
  • Include the legal details, for those who need to better understand the legal issues involved and how the court arrived at its decision.

Writing about particular concepts[edit]

  • Provide a framework for the concept. E.g. – Contextualise trespass as a tort.
  • Link to landmark cases which define the concept

Using technical terms and jargon[edit]

Legal usage of common terms often differs from that of the general public. In general, avoid using legal jargon outside of subject matter that focuses on legal concepts and arguments, and be careful when quoting more generalized sources using technical legal language. For example, a layman may describe the launch of a new television series as a "new intellectual property", which is a needlessly technical and ambiguous term. The legal term "intellectual property" should be reserved for legal subjects, referring more specifically to copyright, trademark, or patent (or even more complex legal constructs).

Citations and referencing[edit]

Referencing style[edit]

While any citation style may be used in an article (see WP:CITEVAR), for articles on cases, case law, or subjects which use a large amount of case law, it is recommended that editors use the referencing style for the jurisdiction that heard that case or for which that legal subject applies.

  • Australia, consider using the AGLC.
  • Canada, consider using the McGill Guide.
  • Germany, consider using the Author's Instructions of the Neue Juristische Wochenschrift.
  • India, consider using the Standard Indian Legal Citation (SILC).
  • United Kingdom, consider using OSCOLA.
  • United States, consider using Bluebook, ALWD, or an official state system (e.g., the California or New York systems).

Citing legal materials[edit]

Cite to legal materials (constitutions, statutes, legislative history, administrative regulations, and cases) according to the generally accepted citation style for the relevant jurisdictions. If multiple citation styles are acceptable in a given jurisdiction, any may be used, but be consistent, and consider using the most common. Also consider using the citation style used in secondary sources (such as law reviews or academic journals) rather than the citation style used by a practitioner's legal briefs or a court's decision.


The following guidelines will be generally useful in many jurisdictions:

In general
  • Where both primary and secondary sources are available, one should cite both. While primary sources are more "accurate", secondary sources provide more context and are easier on the layperson. Where primary and secondary sources conflict factually, the primary source should be given priority.
  • When a case has been published in an official reporter (e.g. the United States Reports), editors should cite the version of the case that appears in the official reporter.
Case citations
Citation signals
  • Avoid citation signals when possible. On Wikipedia, the use of Id., supra, and infra are discouraged, as are internal cross-reference signals to another footnote. This is due to the fact that any reference may be edited or changed, and render the cross-reference signal inaccurate.


See Category:Law citation templates.


Citation templates[edit]

WikiProject templates[edit]

Stub templates[edit]

  • Use the {{law-stub}} template for law related stubs

Navigation templates[edit]

Talk page templates[edit]

Style guides by jurisdiction[edit]

Wikipedia articles are guided by Wikipedia's Manual of Style (including this page), and not by outside style guides. However, style guides can and do influence the MOS, and are useful for making style decisions within the bounds of the MOS.[e]

For reference, access to style guides from some jurisdictions are listed below.

In Australia[edit]

Melbourne University Law Review Association Inc. in collaboration with Melbourne Journal of International Law Inc. Melbourne 2018 (2018–2019). Australian Guide to Legal Citation (PDF) (4th ed.). ISBN 9780646976389. Republished in 2019 with minor corrections.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)

  • Section 2.1 (p.39) for case names: "A citation to an Australian case should generally include the parties' names (as they appear on the first page of the decision) in italics except:..."
  • Section 3.1 (p.67) for statutes (acts of Parliament): "A citation to an Australian Act of Parliament should begin with the short title of the Act in italics".
  • Section 3.2 (p.74) for bills: "Bills should be cited in the same manner as Acts, except that the title and year of the Bill should not be italicised".
  • Section 3.4 (p.75) for delegated legislation (such as regulations, rules and orders), rule 3.1 applies, i.e. in italics.

In Canada[edit]

The Canadian Guide to Uniform Legal Citation, prepared by the McGill University Faculty of Law, is the most commonly cited guide. It is a proprietary source and is only available by purchase.

There are also two specific wikipedia articles which may be of assistance: Case citation § Canada, and Citation of Canadian legislation.

In New Zealand[edit]

New Zealand Law Style Guide format.

In the United Kingdom[edit]

In Scotland, the more serious criminal cases, likely to have a Wikipedia article, are brought by His Majesty's Advocate, and are titled e.g. HM Advocate v Sheridan and Sheridan. However, less serious cases are brought by a procurator fiscal; these do not have a clear convention on Wikipedia at present.

In the United States[edit]

The predominant legal style guide is the Bluebook. Wikipedia articles generally follow Bluebook format for case names and case citations.

  • Leave off given names and only include the first plaintiff/petitioner and the first defendant/respondent. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, not Bell Atlantic Corp., et al. v. William Twombly and Lawrence Marcus
  • Do not confuse the abbreviations that the Bluebook uses in textual sentences (rule 10.2.1(c), summarized below) with the hundreds more that it uses only in footnotes (table 6).[f] In Wikipedia articles, often even case citations in footnotes do not use those additional abbreviations.
    • In titles and the text of an article, do abbreviate the following words within a case name, except at the beginning of either party's name: &, Ass'n, Bros., Co., Corp., Inc., Ltd., and No.
      National Railroad Passenger Corp. v. Boston & Maine Corp.
      Not Nat'l R.R. Passenger Corp. v. Bos. & Me. Corp. (except in footnotes)
      Not National Railroad Passenger Corporation v. Boston and Maine Corporation
    • Additionally, Bluebook allows abbreviation of widely known acronyms like CBS, FCC, FDA, NAACP, and NLRB.
      E.g., McConnell v. FEC and NLRB v. Noel Canning
  • Don't abbreviate "United States" except as part of a longer name. E.g., United States v. Jewell, not U.S. v. Jewell
  • Unless needed for specificity, shorten "State of ___", "Commonwealth of ___", or "People of ___" to just "State", "Commonwealth", or "People", provided the case is in the courts of that state. E.g., State v. Elliott, not State of Vermont v. Raleigh Elliott. For cases in federal court, instead drop "State of". E.g., Vermont v. Brillion.
  • Ambiguous titles like "People v. Superior Court", or "United States v. Smith", are written with the full name of the state and distinguishing name of individual or entity, or distinguishing year, in parenthesis. If still further clarification is needed, then a comma and the year may be added after the identifying individual name.
  • While case citations generally follow Bluebook, references to other sources — especially sources that are not legal authorities — often use another style. Bluebook citations are often written without citation templates, but several are available that work for most uses: {{Ussc}}, {{Cite court}}, {{Bluebook journal}}, {{Bluebook book}}, {{Bluebook website}}.


  1. ^ Consider Wikibooks if you want to write a textbook.
  2. ^ Words to watch include: Act, Bill, Commission, Charter, Code, Court, Tribunal.
  3. ^ Note that Wikipedia uses the term "common name" to refer to what most people call a subject. This will not always be the same as what legal style guides call a "common name".
  4. ^ Where the legal proceedings are covered under the broader topic of a person's death, the article should follow guidelines at WP:DEATHS (eg, Death of Michael Stewart).
  5. ^ For instance, US cases will usually use a v abbreviated by a period (as in United States v. Microsoft Corp.), while other jurisdictions may abbreviate the v without a full stop (as in New Zealand's Ngati Apa v Attorney-General). This distinction reflects a balance between a desire for consistency and the imperative to follow common names.
  6. ^ A similar table of abbreviations is available online from the Cornell Legal Information Institute.

External links[edit]