OSCOLA Referencing – A complete guide
You’ve done it. You’ve extracted the key research, peppered your content with incisive observations, and you’ve just typed the last words of your Law essay conclusion.
And then… it happens. You remember that in all those pages of research, you forgot to reference the sources you used. If only you’d done it in the first place!
Knowing how to cite sources for assignments is a hugely important skill. Even if you’re still at school, learning how to reference now means you won’t get caught out at university.
If you study Law at university, you’ll use the OSCOLA referencing system. This is the Oxford University Standard for the Citation of Legal Authorities. We’ve created a comprehensive guide on exactly what OSCLA is, and how to use it.
What is OSCOLA referencing?
OSCOLA is a footnote referencing style. That means that you add small, superscript numbers (for example, 1,2,3) to the sources in your text, which connect to footnotes at the bottom of your page.
You may also have to include a list of tables of cases, legislation and other primary sources at the start of your essay, and a bibliography of second sources at the end. See page 10-11 of the 4th edition of OCSCOLA.
Let’s look at the OSCOLA system in detail, and how you can cite a wide range of legal sources. Our comprehensive guide refers to the 4th edition of OSCOLA produced by the University of Oxford.
Case citations with neutral citations
An example of a typical case citation with a neutral citation is:
Corr v IBC Vehicles Ltd  UKHL 13,  1 AC 884
The example above shows that this is a case involving Corr and IBC Vehicles Ltd. It was the thirteenth judgement issued by the House of Lords (UKHL) in 2008. It also indicates that a report of the judgement can be found in volume 1 of the series of the Law Reports called the Appeal Cases, beginning at page 884.
Case citations without neutral citations
An example of a typical case citation without a neutral citation is:
Page vs Smith  AC 155 (HL).
When the year is used to identify the law report volume, you should always put it in square brackets. If the relevant law report series was also issued in more than one volume in that particular year, give it a volume number.
When you don’t need to use the year to identify the law report volume, give the year of judgement (not publication) in round brackets.
Where there are multiple parties in cases, you should name only the first claimant and the first defendant. Where cases concern only individuals, leave out forenames and initials. You should abbreviate common words and phrases, for example:
- BC for Borough Council
- Co for Company
- DPP for Director of Public Prosecutions.
When you want to refer to something, use Re instead of, for example, In re or in the matter of. You should use Re the Domestic Abuse Act 2017 rather than In the matter of the Domestic Abuse act 2017.
(See our ‘abbreviations’ section below for further guidance).
Short forms of case names
You should give the name of the case in full when you first mention it in the text or footnotes. After that, you can shorten it.
For example, ‘in Glebe Motors plc v Dixon-Greene’ can be shortened to ‘in the Glebe Motors case’ or ‘in Glebe Motors’. If you do shorten names this way, you should always choose the name which comes first in the full name of the case – in this case Glebe Motors, rather than Dixon-Greene.
A law report is a published report on a judgement. A law report includes features such as a headnote summarising the facts of a case and judgement, and lists of cases considered.
In England and Wales, there are no official law reports of any kind, but the Law Report series by the Incorporated Council of Law Reporting are considered the most authoritative.
If a case is reported in the Law Reports you should cite it in preference to any other report. If you can’t find a judgement in the Law Reports, you should cite the Weekly Law Reports or the All England Law Reports.
If you can’t find a judgement in one of these general series you should refer to a specialist series of law reports such as the Family Law Reports.
When citing courts, indicate the court in brackets after the first page of the report, and before the pinpoint if there is one. A pinpoint is a reference to a particular paragraph of a judgement or page of a report.
Use HL for the House of Lords, CA for the Court of Appeal, QB, CH and F for the division of the High Court, and Com Ct for the Commercial Court within the Queen’s Bench Division.
If you’re citing a case before 1865, it doesn’t require the court. Neither do citations of cases with a neutral citation.
When you make a reference to a judge in a case, use the judge’s surname followed by the conventional abbreviation identifying their judicial office. You do not need to use ‘the Honourable’.
A High Court judge should be called, for example, ‘Mr Justice Brown’, or, if a woman (and regardless of whether she is married) ‘Mrs Justice Smith). You should abbreviate both as ‘Smith J’.
A House of Lords judge (or ‘Law Lord’) is called ‘Lord Brown’ or ‘Lady Brown’, depending on gender.
The President of the Supreme Court should be abbreviated as, for example, ‘Lord Brown P’; the Deputy President as ‘Lord Brown DP’.
The Lord Chancellor (now no longer a judge) should be abbreviated as ‘Lord Brown LC’, the Lord Chief Justice as ‘Lord Brown CJ’, and the Master of the Rolls as 20 ‘Lord Brown MR’.
The Chancellor of the High Court should be abbreviated as ‘Sir John Brown C’, and Presidents of the Queen’s Bench Division and Family Division as ‘Sir Brown P’.
UK primary legislation
Names of Statutes
You should cite an Act by its short title and year in roman, using capitals for the major words. Don’t put a comma before the year. For example:
Act of Supremacy 1558
Shipping and Trading Interests (Protection) Act 1995.
Don’t use popular titles of Acts, for example, ‘Lord Campbell’s Act’. If you are referring to a particular Act a number of times in the same place, you can provide an abbreviated form of the title in the footnotes, as long as you let your reader know in advance. So, the Children Act 1989 becomes CA 1989 (not just CA).
Parts of statues
Statues are divided into parts, sections, subsections, paragraphs and subparagraphs. The relevant abbrevations are:
part / parts to pt/ pts
section / sections to s / ss
subsection / subsections to sub-s/ sub-ss
paragraph/paragraphs to para/paras
subparagraph / subparagraphs to subpara/subparas
schedule / schedules to sch/schs
For older statutes, you can give the regnal year and chapter number. For example:
Crown Debts Act 1801 (41 Geo 3 c 90)
You can see from this example that the information in brackets shows that this Act was given royal assent in the forty-first year of the reign of George III.
Explanatory notes to statutes
When citing explanatory notes to statutes, precede the name of the statue with ‘Explanatory notes to the…’. For example,
Explanatory Notes to the Charities Act 2006, para 15.
An example of how to cite a Bill is:
Consolidated Fund HC Bill (2008-09).
You can see that the Bill is cited by its title, the House in which it originated (here, House of Commons), and with the parliamentary session in brackets (here, 2008-09).
UK Secondary Legislation
Statutory instruments (orders, regulations or rules) are numbered consecutively throughout the year. The year combines with the serial number to make an SI number that follows the abbreviations ‘SI’, which we use to identify the legislation.
When you cite a statutory instrument, give the name, year and (after a comma) the SI number. For example:
Penalties for Disorderly Behaviour (Amendment of Minimum Age) Order 2004, SI 2004/3166
Parts of statutory instruments
The rules for referring to parts of statutory instruments are the same as those referring to parts of statues. Use the following abbreviations:
- regulation / regulations to reg/regs
- rule/rules to r/rr
- article/articles to art/arts
European Union legal sources
Official notices of the EU are in the Official Journal of the European Communities (which is abbreviated to OJ). The OJ citation should be: year, OJ series, number / page. The letter ‘L’ refers to the legislation series.
When you cite EU treaties and protocols, give the title of the legislation, followed by the year of publication, the OK series and the issue and page numbers. For example:
Protocol to the Agreement on the Member States that do not fully apply to the Schengen acquis – Join Declarations  OJ Li129/35.
You should cite Regulations, Directives, Decisions, Recommendations and Opinions by giving the legislation type, number and title, followed by publication details in the OJ. For example:
Council Directive 2002/60/EC of 27 June 2002 laying down specific provisions for the control of African swine fever and amending Directive 92/119/EEC as regards Teschen disease and African swine fever  OJ L192/27
The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR)
For judgements of the European Court of Human Rights, you should cite either the offical reports, the Reports of Judgements and Decisions (ECHR) or the European Human Rights Reports (EHRR). Be aware of the difference before and after 1996. Before 1996, the offocial reports were known and Series A and numbered consecutively. From 2001, case numbers were used instead of page numbers. For example,
Johnston v Ireland (1986) Series A no 122
Osman v UK ECHR 1998 – VIII 3124
Balogh v Hungary App no 47940/99 (ECtHR, 20 July 2004).
Omojudi v UK (2009) EHRR 10
You should cite all publications with an ISBN as if they were books, whether you read them online or in hard copy. Older books do not have ISBNs, but you should cite them as books even if you read them online.
You should cite the author’s name first, followed by a comma, and then the title of the book in italics. You should then follow the title with publication information in brackets. You don’t need to give the place of publication. For example:
Tom Bingham, The Rule of Law (Alan Lane 2010).
If the book has more than one volume, you should follow the volume number with the publication details. For example:
Christian von Bar, The Common European Law of Torts, vol 2 (CH Beck 2000), para 76.
Edited and Translated Books
If there is no author, cite the editor or translator as an author, adding in brackets after their name. For example ‘(ed)’ or ‘(tr)’. If there is more than one editor or translator, put ‘(eds)’ or (trs)
Hard copy journals
When you cite hard copy journal articles, give the author’s name first, followed by a comma. Then give the title of the article within single quotation marks, and the publication information as follows:
year of publication (in square brackets if it identifies the volume, in round brackets if there is a separate volume number).
- the volume number if there is one
- the name of the journal, in full or abbreviated form, with no full stops
- the first page of the article.
Paul Craig, “Theory, “Pure Theory” and Values in Public Law”  PL 440.
Refence case notes with titles as if they were journal articles.
If there is no title, use the name of the case in italics instead, and put ‘note’ at the end of the citation.
With online journals that have been published electronically, give publication details the same way you would for hard copy journal articles.
If online journals lack some of the publication elements for OSCOLA, follow the citation advice of the online journal. Remove full stops to comply with OSCOLA.
You should cite working papers the same way as electronic journal articles. Seeing as the content of working papers are subject to change, make sure you put the date of access. For example:
Graham Greenleaf, ‘The Global Development of Free Access to Legal Information’ (2010) 1(1) EJLT accessed 27 July 2010
Other Secondary Sources
Please see the 4th edition of OSCOLA for comprehensive details on how to cite other secondary sources such as:
- Parliamentary reports
- Command papers
- Law commission reports and documents
- Conference papers
- Websites and blogs
- Newspaper articles
We hope you’ve found our complete guide to OSCOLA referencing useful. You can also use the OSCOLA Quick Reference Guide for ease when referencing.