Oscola referencing style


OSCOLA (The Oxford University Standard for Citation of Legal Authorities), as its name suggests, originates from Oxford University and is used as a citation system for legal writing. It does not claim to a specific style, but rather a citation system. Although it was first used in Oxford University, its use has by now spread to other law schools in the UK and in other parts of the world. It particularly emphasises consistency and accuracy which are of prime importance in legal writing. It is also important that, despite the complexity of legal language, that it is clear and easily understood by the reader. 


In OSCOLA, the citations are given in the footnotes, and never in the text. However, numbers (in superscript) are given in the text and correspond to the citations in the footnotes. The superscript numbers in the text are placed at the end of the sentence, after the full stop. 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. Two of the main citations in OSCOLA are legislation (particular acts of parliament) and court cases.


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. 


In-text: In this case, the Anyname Act 1965 enabled a clear judgement to be given.

However, if the name of the act is not given in the text, it should be given in the footnotes so that the reader is provided with the relevant source.


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

In the footnotes: 1 The Anyname Act 1965, s4. 


OSCOLA stipulates the information that should be given when citing cases. These include the name of the case, the first page of the law report, the volume, and where required, the court where the case was heard. As with cited legislation, it is not necessary to give the details of the case in the footnotes if they have already been given in the text. 


In the text: In the case of Brown v Smith2, the court ruled that the defendant acted in good faith.

In the footnotes: [1956] 4 DE 54 (TE). 

In the text: In Smith3, the prosecution claimed that the defendant’s action were intentional.

In the footnotes: 3 Smith (n40) 146. 


It is important that any quotations included in the text reproduce the original exactly because any changes could be considered as a misquotation. If the quotation is paraphrased, great care should be taken to retain the exact meaning without any ambiguity. Quotation marks should be removed from paraphrased text. In writing on legal topics, it is probably better to give exact quotes. Quotations of up to three lines are included in the text and enclosed in single quotation marks. Where there are quotations within quotations, double quotation marks are used. If any quotation mark is used before the quotation, it should be a comma, but this is not strictly necessary.


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

Quotations of four lines and over

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.Other 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. In foreign words that 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 where the range of numbers represents years; for example, 1866-67, 1975-2002. 


Different law schools may use their own variations of OSCOLA, so it is important to consult the style guide as well as the OSCOLA manual. The key features in OSCOLA are consistency, clarity and accuracy. 

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


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

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