The neutral citation: What is it?

In 1999, the Canadian Judicial Council endorsed the neutral citation standard for Canadian case law and urged all courts to implement the standard as soon as possible. A neutral citation standard is a means of citing decisions without reference to specific publishers, electronic databases, or printed reporters.

It is imperative that members of the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society understand and use the neutral citation. In fact, Rule 40.06(1)(a) of the Nova Scotia Civil Procedure Rules provides that a book of authorities must include a table of contents identifying each authority by its neutral citation.

A decision’s neutral citation is assigned by a court or tribunal and cannot be changed.

The neutral citation consists of three elements: a year, a court identifier, and a number.

Year: The year in a neutral citation is indicated by four digits.

Identifier: Courts and tribunals choose an identifier when they adopt the neutral citation standard. The identifier can include as many as eight characters. Note that there are no periods in the court identifier. Most Canadian courts, and many tribunals, have chosen their identifier. The following list outlines some, but not all, of the identifiers used by federal and provincial courts and tribunals:

Supreme Court of Canada – SCC Nova Scotia Family Court – NSFC
Nova Scotia Court of Appeal – NSCA Nova Scotia Small Claims Court – NSSM
Supreme Court of Nova Scotia – NSSC NS Barristers’ Society Hearing Committee – NSBS
Provincial Court of Nova Scotia – NSPC Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board – NSURB

A more comprehensive list of these identifiers is provided at

Number: A unique number is assigned to each decision by the court or tribunal. Please note that this number does not refer to any page reference. It is simply a unique number used to identify a decision. At the start of each new calendar year, a new sequence of numbers is used, starting again at 1. Decision numbers may reflect the order in which decisions were rendered over the course of a year, but keep in mind that gaps in numbering do occur.

For more information about the neutral citation, please consult the guidelines prepared by the Canadian Citation Committee: The Preparation, Citation and Distribution of Canadian Decisions. These guidelines, which were approved by the Canadian Judicial Council on May 9, 2009, are available electronically in both official languages from

For information about using parallel citations and pinpoint references with the neutral citation, see The neutral citation: Using parallel citations and pinpoint references.