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, it should still aim for plain language, understandable to the widest possible audience and take naïve readers as far as possible.[a]

General considerations[edit]

  • Wikipedia does not capitalize distinct words like Act and Bill as a form of special emphasis (see MOS:INSTITUTIONS). Any full title should be capitalized as usual, as in Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1976.
  • Do not indicate judges by the legal abbreviations Roberts, C.J., Bramwell J or Bramwell B. Instead write out Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Colin Blackburn or Baron Blackburn at first appearance, and simply the judge's surname at later instances. (See Wikipedia:Manual of Style#unwarranted abbreviations; and see MOS:PEOPLETITLES for how to address other titles judges may hold.)
  • If the article topic is fully within one legal system, indicate that legal system, e.g., civil law, sharia law, common law, customary law.
  • 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.
  • 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]

An article should be titled according to its commonly recognizable name.[b] For subjects that have wide coverage outside of legal scholarship the common name may not be the same styling as it would have in academic and court stylings. For example, R v Aubrey, Berry and Campbell is better known as the ABC trial.

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 murder case and Trial of Susan B. Anthony.[c]


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.

Style guides by jurisdiction[edit]

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.

  • 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]

Article content[edit]

Broad areas of law[edit]

  • Articles about broad areas of law, such as Tort, should contain an overview of the law as it stands, and its development.
  • 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?
  • 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.
  • 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


  • 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.

Names of judges[edit]

  • When referring to the name of a judge or justice that was involved in a case in a judicial capacity, that person should be introduced with the prefix "Judge" or "Justice" before their name. For example, when discussing his opinion in United States v. Carolene Products Co., Harlan F. Stone should be referred to as "Justice Harlan F. Stone."

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]


  1. ^ Consider Wikibooks if you want to write a textbook.
  2. ^ 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".
  3. ^ 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).

External links[edit]