Oscola referencing style

OSCOLA referencing style

OSCOLA (The Oxford University Standard for Citation of Legal Authorities) is a citation system for legal writing. Initially developed at the University of Oxford, its use has now spread to law schools across the UK and throughout the world. It places a strong emphasis on consistency and accuracy, which are of prime importance in legal writing. Further, it aims to ensure that despite its complexity, the legal language used is clear and easily understood by the reader.

1. Citations

In OSCOLA, the citations are given in the footnotes. Numbers (in superscript) corresponding to the citations are then given in the text. These are placed at the end of the sentence, after the full stop. However, in some circumstances, the number may be placed after a word or phrase, and if brackets are used, the number should be inside the closing bracket. The main citations in OSCOLA are legislation (particular acts of parliament), court cases, journal articles, and books.



If the name of the act being discussed is given in the text, it is not necessary to give a citation in the footnotes because the information has already been given to the reader. However, if the name of the act is not given, it should be written in the footnotes so that the reader is provided with the relevant source.

For example, the text may state the following:

In this case the court was bound to accept the plea.1

The corresponding citation in the footnotes is as follows:

1 The Any Name Act 1965, s4.



OSCOLA stipulates the information that should be given when citing cases. These include the name of the case, the year in which the judgment was issued, the first page of the law report, the abbreviated name of the report, the volume, the relevant page number, and, where required, the court where the case was heard.

For example, the text may state the following:

In the case of Brown v Smith,2 the court ruled that the defendant acted in good faith.

The corresponding citation in the footnotes is therefore as follows:

[1956] 4 DE 54 (TE).


Journal Articles

When a journal article is referred to in the text, the corresponding footnote should provide information on the author(s), the title of the article (in quotation marks), the date of publication (in brackets), the volume and issue numbers, the abbreviated name of the journal (see the OSCOLA Handbook for standard abbreviations), the first page of the article, and the specific page you are referring to.

For example, the text may state the following:

        This decision, however, was viewed as highly controversial.1

The corresponding citation in the footnotes is as follows:

1Francis Treves, ‘Human Rights and International Law’ (2023) 22(2) HRL Rev 1, 4


Books (including Chapters in Edited Books)

When a book is referenced in the text, the corresponding footnote should list the author, the title of the book (in italics), the publisher and date of publication (in brackets), and the relevant page numbers, as shown in the following example.

2Jenny Rogers, Human Rights Legislation (Oxford University Press, 2024) 316      


When the text refers to a chapter in a edited book, the footnote must list the author and the name of the chapter (in quotation marks), followed by the names of the editors, the title of the book, the publisher and date of publication (in brackets), and the relevant page numbers, as shown in the following example.

4Brian Jones, ‘International Law and Human Rights’, in David Taylor (ed) The Challenges Facing Human Rights (Oxford University Press 2023).


Subsequent citations

When referring to a citation for a second time, it is standard practice to simply use a shortened version of the reference (see the OSCOLA manual for the versions to use when referring to cases, legislation, journal articles, and books).

You should also include a link to the footnote where the full citation can be found (in brackets), and the relevant page number (if different). For example, you would refer to the citation in previous section as follows:

2 Jones (n 4) 152

However, if a subsequent citation comes immediately after the full citation, simply use ‘ibid’.



2. Quotations

It is important that any quotations included in the text reproduce the original exactly because any changes could be considered a misquotation. If the quotation is paraphrased, great care should be taken to retain the exact meaning. Quotation marks should always be removed from paraphrased text. That said, when writing on legal topics, it is better to give exact quotes. Quotations of up to three lines are included in the text and enclosed in single quotation marks, as shown in the following example.


Professor Smith, in addressing the students, stated, ‘It is important that in many cases, intention should be considered.’


Double quotation marks are only used for quotations within quotations.

If quotations are of four lines and over, the quoted text should be indented and quotation marks should not be used. A double space should be left between the introductory text and the quotation itself.


3. Additional points

Punctuation is used sparingly in OSCOLA; for example, full stops are not used in abbreviations.

Italics should be used for foreign words, except where a foreign word or phrase is in common use in legal language. If foreign words are likely to be less familiar to the reader, a translation should be given and enclosed in brackets.

Where a range of numbers is given, as few figures as possible should be used. The same applies in cases where the range of numbers represents years; for example, 1866-67, 1975-2002.


4. Variations

Different law schools may use their own variations of OSCOLA, so it is important to consult the relevant style guide as well as the most recent version of the OSCOLA manual (currently the Fourth Edition).


5. Bibliography

At the end of your work, you will need to list all the sources you have used. These are presented alphabetically in order of author’s surname.

The format for each reference is generally the same as for the footnotes, the only notable difference being that the surnames of authors are presented first, followed by their initials (e.g. Brown, R rather than Ryan Brown). Also, page numbers are not required for books.

It is also common practice to present different types of sources (cases, legislation books, journals, books, etc.) in separate sections, headed appropriately. 

NOTE: The names given in the examples are fictitious and any unintended mention of real persons or cases is coincidental. 



oscola_4th_edn_hart_2012.pdf (ox.ac.uk) (accessed 30.05.24)

Legal Footnotes (OSCOLA 4th) - King's Guide to Referencing 2020 - LibGuides at King’s College London (kcl.ac.uk) (accessed 30.05.24)

Repeating Citations - OSCOLA referencing guide (Online) - LibGuides at Swansea University (accessed 30.05.24)


The Ultimate Proofreader is a specialist provider of academic proofreading and editing services based in the UK.

https://www.law.ox.ac.uk/sites/files/oxlaw/oscola_4th_edn_hart_2012.pdf. [accessed 11.06.21]. 

The Ultimate Proofreader Service is a specialist academic proofreading and editing services provider based in the UK.