How to Cite a Law in Harvard Style?
Published byat August 30th, 2021 , Revised On August 23, 2023
In academic texts, laws might be cited. The term ‘law’ is an umbrella term, which is used to mean either one of the following:
- Legal cases: Legal cases are mostly included in the reference list, but only if they are highly important for the overall understanding of the text or what the text is claiming. In other words, to support a claim or suggestion made in the text, writers can include such references in the list; if they feel the text just can’t do without.
Note: The name of the case it written in italics. Its year of publication is written in brackets. However, some institutions prefer to italicise both the title and year of the case.
- Legislation acts and regulations: A lot of care must be taken while citing and referencing such official sources. Their names, capitalization and/or spellings are not changed to suit the referencing page layout or style etc. Everything must be cited and referenced in the way it was officially published.
Tip: While citing such sources, don’t forget to check the formal title of the act. Most legislative acts and regulations have a formal title that can be used in the in-text citation.
Jurisdiction: They also fall under the above category of legislation acts and regulations. While citing jurisdictions, it should be cited in such a way that the reader can instantly tell whether it is a jurisdiction act. For example, ‘Victoria’s Equal opportunity Act 1995 prohibits…’
Another method is to write the abbreviated information within brackets after the date, for example: ‘the Copyright Act 1968 (Cth) … ‘Here, Cth refers to Commonwealth Acts. These are a collection of acts that are specific to Australia. Referencing them is done using Harvard style, too.
Units of division for Legal Acts: Just like books have chapters, acts have divisions too. They are in the form of sections, and they are numbered in Roman numerals. Citing and referencing legal acts involves mentioning the section number too. The abbreviations s. or ss. are used to refer to acts’ sections. However, they are never written at the beginning of a sentence. In Harvard, a section of a legal act is referenced in these ways, for instance:
- Section 4 of the Commonwealth’s Copyright Act 1968 … OR
- In ss. 4-7 of the Copyright Act (Cth) … OR
- The Copyright Act 1068, s. 4, …
Legal Bills: Governments and their officials often pass and publish many bills related to different departments. In Harvard, legal bills and acts are cited and referenced in much the same way, as the examples and formats below will show
Just like citing a journal article includes some unique elements, like the issue and volume numbers of the journal, laws also include such unique details. They are in the form of numbers corresponding to acts, their sections or both.
The basic format for citing any law in Harvard style is:
In-text citation: Title of the law in italics Year of Publication
Reference list entry: Title of the law in italics Year of Publication (Jurisdiction abbreviation)
In-text citation: …The Commonwealth’s Copyright Act 1968
Reference list entry: The Commonwealth’s Copyright Act 1968 (Vic)
In-text and Reference Formats with Examples
In Harvard referencing, the basic format for legal cases is:
In-text citation: Title of the case (Year) Reference details (including vol number, abbreviated reference series, starting p.#)
Reference list entry: References for legal case in Harvard style are only included if they are necessary to understand the general meaning(s) of implication(s) of the text(s). Otherwise, they are not needed. If they are indeed to be included, a separate sub-heading titled ‘Cases’ is made within the reference list, and the references for legal cases are written underneath it.
Note: During in-text citation in Harvard style for legal cases, the word ‘at’ is used instead of p.# for a page number. The Harvard in-text citation format in such a case is: Title of the case (Year) reference details at the page number.
An example of a legal case cited and referenced in Harvard style is:
In-text citation: The State of New South Wales v. The Commonwealth (1915) 20 CLR 54 Greutner v. Everard (1960) 103 CLR 177 at 181
Reference list entry: The State of New South Wales v. The Commonwealth (1915) 20 CLR 54
Legislations: Acts and Regulations
In-text citation: Tile of the Act in italics, Year of publication (may or may not be in italics), section number (if available)
Reference list entry: Title of the Act in italics, Year of Publication (may or may not be in italics), section number, reprint number, Publisher, Place of Publication.
In-text citation: Property Law Act 1974 (Qld), s 55
Reference list entry: Property law Act 1974 (Qld), 2014, Office of Queensland Parliamentary Counsel,
Some places also use the following Harvard format for referring to legal acts and legislations:
In-text citation: Title of the Act Year both in italics OR title of the Act Year both in italics (abbreviation of the jurisdiction)
Reference list entry: Title of the Act Year of publication (abbreviation of the jurisdiction)
In-text citation: Residential Tenancies Act 1997 OR Residential Tenancies Act 1997 (Vic) where Vic, short for Victoria, is the abbreviation for jurisdiction. As mentioned above, make the jurisdiction obvious. It can also be done in this way: ‘‘Victoria’s Residential Tenancies Act 1997 …’
Reference list entry: Residential Tenancies Act 1997 (Vic)
Citing and referencing legal bills in Harvard style is perhaps the simplest out of all three law types. The format for citing such a source in Harvard is:
In-text citation: Title of the Bill Year (Jurisdiction) NO ITALICISATION in any of the elements while citing a legal bill.
Reference list entry: Title of the Bill (Title of the Regulation or Act if available) Bill Publication Year (abbreviation for jurisdiction if available).
Note: Since a bill before parliament is ‘unpublished,’ its title is NOT italicized in an in-text nor reference citation.
In-text citation: Migration Amendment (Regulation of Migration Agents) Bill 2017 (Cth)
Reference list entry: Migration Amendment (Regulation of Migration Agents) Bill 2017 (Cth)
Other Types of Laws and Their Citations with Examples
Here are some other not-so-common types of laws that might need to be cited according to Harvard style:
1. Citing Laws not included in the Code
Here, the ‘code’ refers to the act or a section of an act. It’s cited in the same an act is cited, as mentioned above, for example: (Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act 2009). The year of publication may or not be italicised, depending on which format is specified by one’s institution.
Note: Italics are not used for Acts of Parliament of other nations, e.g., Youth Work Act 2010 (Estonia).
2. Citing Laws spread across different sections of the same Act
They’re cited in the same format as that given above for acts, for example: (Civil Rights Act 1964)
Note Mention section(s) number here also, if applicable, after year and jurisdiction abbreviation (if known).
3. Citing state laws
The format for these, too, is the same as that given above for acts, for example: (Community Action Act 2020).
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Frequently Asked Questions
To cite a law in Harvard Style:
- Include the law’s title.
- Year of enactment.
- Jurisdiction (if applicable).
- Section or regulation number.
- Italicize or underline the law’s title.
- Parenthetical citation in-text: (Title Year).
- Full details in the reference list.