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Neutral case citations: An exercise in modernising the law

Neutral case citations: An exercise in modernising the law

Posted by zenaira-khan | 17 April 2015
Understanding neutral case citations is important for anyone learning or practising the law since their introduction in 2001, on Lord Woolf's recommendation in his Access to Justice report of 1996. They are a vital legal research skill, something found in our case law collections on Justis, Justcite and JustisOne.

Since 2001 the judiciary of England and Wales has been issuing neutral citations to every decided case heard in the High Court, Court of Appeal, Supreme Court (previously House of Lords), the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council and a large number of tribunals.

The catalyst for this change was Lord Woolf’s “Access to Justice” report of 1996 which touted the need for modernisation of the preparation, distribution and citation of judgments given in every division of the High Court. Namely a means by which to facilitate the easy publishing of judgments to the internet.

“[A] civil justice system which will meet the needs of the public in the twenty first century” was the order of the day, with neutral citations the panacea;. A development in everyone’s favour.

In practice, neutral citations simply denote the court that issued the judgment and, where necessary, the paragraph. For example the case of Stack v Dowden has the following citation: [2007] UKHL 17. This translates to meaning that it was the seventeenth case heard in the House of Lords in the 2007 judicial year.

Before the introduction of neutral citations members of the legal profession were faced with the uncertainty that, because of publisher-specific citations, they may not possess the same judgment of a case used by a party to proceedings. The differences in how publishers section judgments, whether into numbered or alphabetised paragraphs or by page number, has not however been solved by neutral citations. Locating references made to specific sections of a judgment can still be rather arduous.

Overwhelmingly they have marked a signficant development in legal clarity. With the change came a departure from a reliance on the citations used until then by legal publishers, specific to their series and collections, to a symbiosis where all parties could easily locate the same judgment, irrespective of the series in which it was reported, because each report would also carry the neutral citation.

*This post was written in response to an FAQ, “What are neutral citations?”, submitted by one of our community to the JustisOne knowledge base. If you have any questions about the new Justis platform, please visit justisone.helpscoutdocs.com  

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