Most countries have their own legal processes, so it makes sense that they have their own legal citation systems as well. In the UK, the most common form of legal referencing is OSCOLA (or the Oxford Standard for Citation of Legal Authorities). And in this post, we look at how to cite primary sources with OSCOLA. First, though, what exactly is a primary source?
Primary and Secondary Sources
OSCOLA classes sources as either ‘primary’ or ‘secondary’. Primary sources are legal sources, such as cases and legislative documents. Secondary sources cover everything else, including books, journal articles and websites.
In either case, you will use superscript numbers (e.g. 1, 2, 3) to indicate a citation, with details of the source given in a footnote. But the information you give here will depend on the source in question. For primary sources, this usually means either a case report or a legislative act.
Citing Case Reports in OSCOLA
Case Name | [Year] | Court | Number,| [Year] | Volume | Report Abbreviation | First Page
However, you only need to include the case name in the footnote if it is not used in the text. And as shown, the neutral citation should be separated from the law report citation by a comma.
Cases from before 2001 will not have a neutral citation, so footnotes for older cases should only include the following details:
Case Name | [Year] | Volume | Report Abbreviation | First Page | (Court)
Examples of the above would thus appear as follows in footnote citations:
Neutral Citation: PI vs Walls  UKHL 15,  4 AC 1284
No Neutral Citation: GM vs Nissan  1 AC 154 (UKHL)
Citing Legislation in OSCOLA
Other than cases, the main primary sources in OSCOLA referencing are legislative acts and statutory instruments. When citing a UK legislative act, all you need is the short title and year. For instance:
Act of Supremacy 1558
To reference a particular section, meanwhile, simply add it after the year:
Human Rights Act 1998 s 7
The ‘s’ before the ‘7’ above is short for ‘section’. However, the correct abbreviation here may depend on what you’re citing:
You may also need to cite a statutory instrument at some point. To do this, the footnote should include the title, year and the SI number (after a comma). So, for instance, we could cite a statutory instrument as follows:
The Deregulation Act 2015 (Commencement No. 4) Order 2015, SI 2015 2074 (C. 130)
Cases and Legislation in an OSCOLA Bibliography
As well as footnote citations, you will need to list all primary sources in a bibliography at the end of your document. For primary sources, the general rules in an OSCOLA bibliography are:
- Provide full information for each source.
- Divide primary sources into a Table of Cases and a Table of Legislation (you may also want to separate acts of legislation from legislative instruments).
- Sort cases/acts into separate sections by jurisdiction (unless you have not cited many sources, in which case they can be combined).
- List sources within their categories alphabetically by case name/title.
- List secondary sources separately under the heading ‘Bibliography’.
This will make it easy for readers to find the various primary sources you have used in your work. And if you’d like someone to double check your referencing when you’ve finished writing, we’re always happy to help.