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How to Cite a Court Case in Harvard Style?

Published by at August 27th, 2021 , Revised On July 6, 2022

 

A legal case is also called a court case. Court cases are often cited in research or manuscripts belonging to fields like law, political sciences or even in other social sciences where a legal matter is being discussed. Since they are legal cases that were notarized in the past, their references often resemble those of a document or even a book.

Court case references in Harvard, though, involve the following main things:

  • The title of the case (much like the title of a book)
  • Name of the reporter
  • Reporter abbreviation, if available

In-Text and Reference List Format with Examples

The general format for creating a reference list entry for a court case in Harvard style is:

Title of the case in italics [Year Published] Title of the Document or the Name and Volume number (Location), # of pages used.

For example, Australian Competition and Consumer Commission v Allergy Pathway Pty Ltd [2009][2009] FCA 960

And the format for in-text citations is: (Title, [Year Published]). For example, “difficult financial position” (Australian Competition and Consumer Commission v  Allergy Pathway Pty Ltd, [2009]).

Point to remember: Never change the capitalization, punctuation or any other element from the title of a case. Its title has to be written in exactly the same way as it was originally published by the court/reporter.

Court cases are often of two types:

  1. Reported case: that is officially reported by a court as a whole, a reporter or multiple reporters of the court.

The format for citing this type of court case is:

Name of the case (Year), reporter volume, reporter abbreviation, first page.

An in-text citation example for this court type is: Masters v Cameron (1954) 91 CLR 353. (‘Masters’)

To create the reference list entry for reported court cases, a separate section is created in Harvard style reference list. And the heading of ‘Cases’ is given to that section.

Taking the same source example as above, another way to cite reported cases is:

  • … in Masters (1954) 91 CLR 353 at 358, the Court jointly held… OR
  • …a mere agreement to agree is not legally enforceable: Masters [1954] HCA 72, [11] (Dixon CJ, McTiernan and Kitto JJ). In this in-text citation format, the names of the reports come at the end of the citation instead of at the start, like in the case of a book’s citation.

While citing according to the second format given above, a: mark after the sentence ends suggests that it’s a reference to the reported case, whose citation follows after the: mark.

  1. Medium-neutral court: The term medium-neutral citation, also called an MNC, is used for decisions and judgments made by the Court or Tribunal. As the name implies, it’s independent of other citations that commercial publishers may have given to a legal decision or judgment.

In other words, MNCs are not dependent on any reporters, courts or other law systems. They’re published like a document on the internet or in a book would be.

The format for referencing a medium-neutral court is:

Name of the case, [Year], court abbreviation, case, or docket number.

Here, a docket number is a court case number. It’s essentially the same as a tracking number. This number must appear all every case paper submitted to the Court. Generally, the docket number consists of a two-digit number, which signifies the Year it was published. This is followed by the type of case it was, signified by either Civ. for civil cases or Cr. for Court.

An example of in-text citation of a medium-neutral case is: Masters v Cameron [1954] HCA 72. (‘Masters’)

Its reference list entry would be: Masters v Cameron (1954) 91 CLR 353.

Another simple example of in-text citation for a reported case according to Harvard style is:

Thorne v. Deas (1809) 4 Johns. N.Y. Sup. Ct. 84.

Here, ‘Sup.’ Indicates that the case was reported in the Supreme court of N.Y, which is New York’s abbreviation. In case the city name isn’t available, the state’s name or abbreviation can also be included while referring to court cases in Harvard style.

An important point to Note: ‘at’ is used instead of ‘page number’ white citing cases in Harvard, for example: Bartnicki v. Vopper (2001) 523 U.S. at 514

 

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Other types of Court Cases and Their Citations

Apart from a reported and neutral court case, there are other types of court cases too that are being referred to in a text. They are:

  • Circuit court case: a case that ‘sits’ at more than one place in the same district it’s serving
  • State court case: is broader than federal courts. It involves cases related to felonies, family disputes, misdemeanors, traffic violation cases, and so on.
  • District court case: starting from the ‘smallest’ case type, circuit court case, a district court case is the broadest, most serious type of court case. It involves cases that have to do with serious crimes, such as murder. A judge and jury is deciding the fate of the criminal and appropriate punishments are decided. 

These three types of court cases also follow the same in-text as well as reference format as the general court case format mentioned above, for example:

Lawrence v. Heller (1962) 311 F.2d at 225 10th Cir. (example of a circuit court case)

Sohappy v. Smith (1969) 302 F. Supp. at 899 (example of a state court case)

Mullins v. Parkview Hosp., Inc. (2007) 865 N.E. 2d at 608 (example of a district court case)

About Alaxendra Bets

Bets completed her degree in English Literature in 2014. She has been working as a professional editor and writer with Research Prospect since then. Bets loves to help students improve their learning.