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How to cite paragraphs: the simple answer

This is a simple and clear articulation designed to give clarity to the mess of two opposing ways of paragraph citation: verbal (‘para 10’) and brackets (‘[10]’). The former style is preferred by OSCOLA, but the latter is widely used.

The answer is simple. When writing a document, paragraph numbers of that document should be in brackets. So, for example, one’s first paragraph should begin:

[1] This is an appeal from the decision…

The brackets serve a very important purpose for electronic documents: they allow easy searching, so the user can go directly to the pinpoint citation. For this reason, my extension ‘Better BAILII uses Javascript to add brackets around paragraph numbers. This is because a legal document contains many numbers, and thus the brackets serve to make clear that the two and three-digit numbers between them are absolutely paragraph numbers only of the document itself. Obviously, it would defeat this purpose if a search within the document also showed paragraphs of other cases, since those are not useful for document navigation.

Consequently, all other paragraph numbers should use the verbal style, like so:

[25] As Lord Denning MR said at para 15…

This has advantages beyond just navigation. Tthe verbal style is more suited for human reading, more pleasant to the eye than clashing brackets, and more unambiguous, since brackets already have other meaning in legal year citations.

Thus, we have a simple and clear solution to this common dilemma. In the interests of clarity, I have avoided expanding this argument at my usual length, but I welcome any questions or quibbles in the comments and shall do my best to respond.