Citing Cases in Exams

Probably the most important thing to remember to do when citing a case in an examination is to underline the case name.   In printed text the full citation is used, for example, The Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain v Boots Cash Chemists (Southern) Ltd [1953] 1 QB 401.  Clearly you are not expected to memorize all these details and in an examination it would be appropriate to cite the case as:   Pharmaceutical Society of GB v Boots Chemists.   If you cannot remember the names of both parties then write the name of one of the parties, for example, “the Boots case”.  In the context of a good answer this will be enough information for the examiner to realize that you know the relevant authority.   Obviously this wouldn’t apply to writing “R” in a Criminal case, such as R v Hughes.    If you can’t remember the case name then – rarely – and as a last resort – you can rehearse some of the facts of the case.  For example: “In a decided case, where the issue was whether displaying goods on the shelves of a self-service shop was an invitation to treat or an offer”.

Generally dates will not matter but it can be useful to remember the level of the Court and the sequence of the cases where a case has been overruled or doubted.

34 comments

  1. Will there be any negative impacts like bad impression if the students fail to underline the case as it may be very time-consuming for students to underline cases?

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  2. Yes, of course you will create a bad impression if you don’t underline case names since you are failing to follow a standard convention. How time consuming can it can be to underline a few words? You don’t need to use a ruler to underline the word ‘Boots’.

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  3. Thank You soooooooo much UOL. I was in so much tension due to this thing, my teacher told me that i need to memorize the neutral citations in the case, which was going to take forever, thanks again for giving this confirmation. Oh! Its a huge relief 🙂

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  4. thank you. this is very helpful. I would like to know how you a student would be able to underline a very long case such as R v Secretary of State ex parte …. and in a situation where a student is not able to remember everything, how can he/she cite what is relevant?

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    1. “How do you eat an elephant?” Well, assuming that you are willing to eat endangered mammals, you eat elephant in much the same way as you eat cow, pig, chicken, sheep, goat and so on. You cut it into small pieces! How do you underline a very long case? Likewise – you cut it into manageable pieces – as far as your hand can stretch! As to the second question, how can you cite what is relevant when you can’t remember everything? This is impossible to answer since what you cannot remember may well be the most relevant. The starting point has to be what you can remember and you have to make the best of it in the circumstances.

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  5. Hi,
    Good , and useful tips.
    Ive been citing the relevant cases with different colour , for instance throught out the paper if im writting in blue gel pen , then probably il be using black colour pen to quote the case will that be excepted and will i be penalized for this?

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  6. You won’t be penalised for you multi-coloured exam script but the convention is not to change colour but to underline. The history of the convention is that in the old days when a script for publication was typed or hand-written (rather than word-processed) it wasn’t possible to italicize text. The solution was to underline the text to be italicized in the printed version.

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  7. Thanks, Mr Askey. These small tips make a big difference. I thought it was ‘fatal’ if one didnt remember the two parties to the case. Although I would still do all to remember the full names of the two parties, plus other relevant info. like the court etc, I feel relieved that I have alternatives, via which I can still gain some valuable points.

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  8. Thank you very much for this information. It is well appreciated. But I hope I will not be penalized for my hand writing though, as I have been trying to improve on it.

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  9. Thanks for these tips Mr. Askey. They are very helpful. I’ve been struggling to remember the full name of cases; especially the ones involving health authorities and public authorities.

    Best regards,
    Kenisha

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  10. What if a student sites a case and also facts of the case he thought he was siting and he ended up missing the name of the case but the said facts were correct to back his answer, will it be a reasonable plea for the examiner to overlook the mixing up of the above mentioned and see that the student knew what he was doing?

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  11. When you cite (not site) a case in law you are stating the authority for a point of law. You can’t cite a case and forget the name of the case since the very act of citing the case involves stating the name of the case. Your scenario seems to be precisely the same as the one I mentioned in the initial post, namely one where you can remember the facts of a case but not the name. It’s impossible to say how far the omission of the case name will be overlooked since a mark is awarded for the entire answer taking into account both its strengths and its weaknesses.

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  12. Thank you so much, this is indeed every helpful.. I have a question though, how many cases roughly should a person cite in an answer.. I am giving Land law and I am told that I need to cite maybe 30 cases per answer. Will 8-10 cases per answer be enough, and by 8-10 I mean important ones, like Re Ellenborough, Wheeldon v Burrows, London and Blenheim Estates Ltd v Ladbroke Retail Parks Ltd, etc..

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  13. It’s impossible to say how many cases you should cite but 30 sounds pretty high to me. It’s not really quantity of cases but quality of application of the relevant cases to the legal issues. There are no marks awarded for simply mentioning cases. The marks are awarded for how well you apply the relevant law to the facts of the problem question or, in the case of an essay, draw on the cases to explain your points and support your views.

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  14. Thanks Simon for invaluable advice. I wanted to ask you two things. First that will it be appreciated if the case name is underlined in black ink, while the script is in blue? Secondly, if you are repeating a case in your script, is it necessary to cite the full name each time you cite it. For instance, if I have to mention Hunter v Moss (1994) more than once, will it be acceptable if I mention the full name once and then keep on referring it as Hunter later on. Also, is it important to underline the case name every time it is repeated?

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  15. There’s no need to change ink colour for underlining case names and it’s not really the convention so I wouldn’t do it. After all you wouldn’t change ink colour for full stops.
    You’re correct about the approach to citing the case Hunter v Moss, you can just refer to it as
    Hunter thereafter but you should still underline it.

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  16. Thanks for the advice. Can I know if we cite a public law case such, is it we can cite like exparte fartotame, but if it is a recently judicial review case, can we cite R(on the application of quintavalle), instead of the full citation?

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    1. For a well-known case like Factortame (the case name should be underlined but I can’t get it to work on here) you can simply write the name of the case. You should use capital letters and, again, for Quintavalle the case name should be enough.

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  17. Hey pretty cool advice i still like to ask something,
    Do i need to write the year of the case law?
    Like carlill v carbolic smoke ball co 1893?
    Can i just write Carlill v carbolic smoke ball co?
    Would that be fine?
    Please reply asap

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    1. Hi Fazi,

      Simon Askey has responded to your questions as follows:
      “No, you don’t need to cite the year of the case. It’s more important to know the chronology of the cases if there are alternative viewpoints to discuss and to know if a higher court cast doubt over a decision of a lower court”
      Best wishes,

      ULP Office

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