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Changes under the 6th edition of the McGill Guide

This article was written by Michael Dew, a Vancouver lawyer who practices civil litigation. Click here for contact information and further details about Michael’s practice. This article provides only information, not legal advice. If you require legal advice you should consult a lawyer. 

The 6th edition of the Canadian Guide to Uniform Legal Citation, published by the McGill Law Journal, is now available.
The most significant change under the 6th edition of the Guide deals with neutral citations. Neutral citations are assigned by courts when rendering decisions, and are recognizable by the lack of brackets around the year, and the lack of periods in the court identifier. Neutral citations are issued sequentially by each court throughout the year. For example, the first case released by the Alberta Court of Queens Bench for 2007 would have the neutral citation 2007 ABQB 1.
The most significant change in the 6th edition compared to the 5th edition, is that the neutral citation is to come first in the string of citations following the style of cause. In other words, under the fifth edition the case of Beals v. Saldanha would have been cited as Beals v. Saldanha, [2003] 3 S.C.R. 416, 2003 SCC 72, but should now be cited as Beals v. Saldanha, 2003 SCC 72, [2003] 3 S.C.R. 416.  
This change obviously only affects cases that have neutral citations. Neutral citations were approved in 1999 by the Canadian Association of Law Librarians and by the Canadian Judicial Council. Many courts, including the Supreme Court of Canada, the British Columbia Appeal, Supreme, and Provincial Courts began providing neutral citations in 2000.
The 6th edition of the McGill Guide states that although the neutral citation is listed first, a citation to a printed reporter should always be provided. The reason given is that although the neutral citation identifies the case, it does not tell the reader where to find it. In reality, all cases for which neutral citations are provided are available for free on CanLII, and only the neutral citation is required to find the case. Providing a parallel citation may be useful if the neutral citation is in error, but in that case one could just as well search using the case name. The Guide states that the neutral citation should appear on its own when the case has not been published in a paper reporter.
The effect of the above is that citations to CanLII, e.g. Delgamuukw v. British Columbia, 1997 CanLII 307 at para. 87 (S.C.C.), should only be provided where the case is not published in a paper reporter, and does not have a neutral citation. Since CanLII coverage for most courts started in the 1990’s, and neutral citations started in 2000, one should seldom, if ever, cite to CanLII. This seems anomalous given that CanLII is the most accessible source for case law in Canada. Although cases can be found on CanLII using the printed reporter citation, one has to wonder why the Guide does not encourage citations to the free and comprehensive case law database that CanLII has become!
Other changes in the 6th edition of the Guide include modifications to the method for citing electronic journals, and an expanded section on how to cite internet sites. The table of abbreviations at the end of the Guide has also been enlarged to include more periodicals, yearbooks, jurisdictions and courts. However, abbreviations can be found more easily online at the links provided on the abbreviations page of Legaltree.