By Ann Marie Melvie, Librarian, Court of Appeal for Saskatchewan
and Joanne V. Colledge-Miller, MacPherson Leslie & Tyerman LLP
As we mentioned in the first post of our series, the Citation Guide for the Courts of Saskatchewan stresses the importance of the neutral citation and mandates that if one is available for the decision cited, it must be used.
Why are neutral citations so important? Well, first of all, they are citations assigned by the courts and clearly identify for the reader where the decision is from and how old it is. Additionally, any decision with a neutral citation has had paragraph numbers added by the court, again making it easier to pinpoint to a specific portion of the decision that can be universally accessed by anyone.
The neutral citation contains three parts: the year of the decision; the tribunal identifier, which readily identifies both the jurisdiction and the level of court; and the ordinal number of the decision. The ordinal number is nothing more than a consecutive number assigned by the requisite court for each decision it issues each year.
As you can see from these examples, neutral citations have no punctuation in them and use no lower case letters: 2014 SCC 5; 2012 SKPC 104; 2009 SKQB 195.
Because the neutral citation is assigned by the court issuing the decision, it allows counsel and litigants to cite to and retrieve decisions without having to rely on a citation that is specific to a case law report or database. It is a permanent means of identifying cases, independent of individual products or particular publishers. With the neutral citation in hand, the case can be found electronically, regardless of the database used. This is especially important from an access to justice perspective, as it allows self-represented litigants to readily access these decisions for free, either using CanLII or the court’s judgment database.
Since 1999, Canadian courts have gradually adopted the neutral citation. The Supreme Court of Canada adopted its use in 2000, while here in Saskatchewan, the Court of Queen’s Bench started using it in 1999; the Court of Appeal in 2000; and the Provincial Court in 2002. Appendix A of the Guide contains a list of the dates various courts across the country started using the neutral citation.
For the first time, the Courts of Saskatchewan are requiring that any cases cited before them list the neutral citation and that this neutral citation be identified first before any other cite. If a decision is very recent, the neutral citation might be all that is available. Once the judgment is published in a print report, the print report should be used as a second and parallel citation. If a neutral citation is not available, then only one print report needs to be cited.
Don’t be fooled by some database identifiers that can look like neutral citations. For example, 1987 CanLII 4923 has some of the characteristics of a neutral citation, but it is not one. Not surprisingly, it is a CanLII citation.
Other database identifiers that might be confusing are those assigned by WestlawNext Canada (e.g., 2014 CarswellSask 571) or Quicklaw (e.g.,  S.J. No. 477). Again, these are not neutral citations. They are electronic database identifiers assigned to the decision by the publisher. As soon as you see “Carswell” in the citation, it is a WestlawNext Canada cite. And when you see an abbreviation for number (“No.”) in the citation, you can be pretty sure it is a Quicklaw database identifier. As a quick rule of thumb, a neutral citation only contains numbers and capital letters with no other punctuation.
So, again, what does this mean for you?
It means you must always provide the neutral citation when one is available and list it immediately after the case name.
Stay tuned for the next installment.
|This is part 2 of a 7-part series on the Citation Guide for the Courts of Saskatchewan: Part 1 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7|
Ann Marie Melvie is the Librarian at the Court of Appeal for Saskatchewan, having served in this position since 2001. She received her Bachelor of Education from the University of Saskatchewan and her diploma as a Library Technician from SIAST.
Joanne V. Colledge-Miller is currently an associate at MacPherson Leslie & Tyerman LLP, practicing in the areas of commercial litigation and class actions.