Answered By: Jonathan Faerber
Last Updated: Sep 30, 2020     Views: 1506

In legal citations, the style of cause is effectively the short title of a case and is comprised of parties to the case—that is, the plaintiff and defendant bringing the case before court, or appellant and respondent, in the case of an appeal (McGill Law Journal, 2018, E-38). For example, after Ontario’s government charged three doctors under section 251 of the Criminal Code, the doctors (Henry Morgentaler, Leslie Frank Smoling, and Robert Scott) successfully appealed this decision in Canada’s Supreme Court in R v Morgentaler, [1998] 1 SCR 30. In this case, “R” is a shorthand abbreviation for the federal government (formally titled “the Queen in right of” or the Latin word for “Queen”: “Regina”) and refers to the respondent in the case, while “Morgentaler” is the first of the last name(s) of the appellant bringing the case before the Supreme Court.

Usually, titles are assigned to a case by a court (in a neutral citation) or by a print reporter following these rules:

  • The abbreviation "R" stands for the federal government prosecuting a criminal case (McGill Law Journal, 2018, E-38)
  • The abbreviation "v" stands for "versus" (McGill Law Journal, 2018, E-38)
  • Incorporated companies are identified by the relevant abbreviation associated with that company, such as "Canadian Broadcasting Corp.", or "Shell Canada Ltd." (McGill Law Journal, 2018, E-39)
  • Government bodies are included in parentheses when involved in a case, with the title naming the relevant jurisdiction as a party in the case, as in: "Ontario (Employment Standards Officer)" or "Canada (AG)" (McGill Law Journal, 2018, E-40)
  • Formal municipal divisions are identified in parentheses, after the common name of the municipality, as in "Saanich (District of)" or "Victoria (City of)" (McGill Law Journal, 2018, E-41).
  • The full names of unions and school boards are spelled out in the style of cause, regardless of whether the case involved a particular division within the board (such as the "Board of Trustees"), as in: "Prince Albert Rural School Division No 56" or "Canadian Autoworkers Union, Local 576" (McGill Law Journal, 2018, E-41)
  • In cases where a person is represented by their guardian in court, their last name is followed by the phrase "Guardian ad litem of" or "Litigation guardian of" in parentheses: "Dobson (Litigation guardian of)" (McGill Law Journal, 2019, E-39)

After the full style of cause is included in a legal citation, subsequent citations to the same reference may shorten the title, as discussed in How Do I Repeat a Legal Citation to a Single Reference?. For examples of a full legal citation including a style of cause, please see What Is a Neutral Citation, and How Do I Cite and Reference a Case With a Neutral Citation? as well as How Do I Cite and Reference a Case From a Print Reporter?


McGill Law Journal. (2018). Canadian guide to uniform legal citation (9th ed.). Thomson Reuters.