There are different conventions for how to cite legal material. Follow one style consistently to help people read and use the information.
Cite legal material consistently and accurately
It’s important to cite legal sources in a consistent and accurate way across government.
The Style Manual gives common guidance for different types of legal material, including:
- bills and explanatory material
- Acts of parliament
- delegated legislation
- cases and legal authorities
If your government agency has a legislative focus, you might need more detail. For example, for an authoritative source for specific legal conventions, you might use the 4th edn of the Australian guide to legal citation.
Use the Style Manual guidance to cite legal material for any type of content. If you work on non-government material, follow the appropriate style for your publication.
Use the correct legislation title
Unless it is obvious from the context:
- Put the title first when writing in-text citations, footnotes and endnotes.
- Follow the title with the rest of the citation.
- The Loans Security Act 1973 (subsection 5A(b)) provides for ...
- Commonwealth legislation (Loans Security Act 1973, subsection 5A(b)) provides for ...
[The citation pinpoints subsection 5A(b) of the Act after giving its title.]
Commonwealth legislation (subsection 5A(b), Loans Security Act 1973) provides for ...
Use the following databases to find the authorised titles of legislation from each Australian jurisdiction.
States and territories
- ACT Legislation Register
- NSW legislation
- Northern Territory legislation
- Queensland legislation
- South Australian legislation
- Tasmanian legislation
- Victorian legislation and parliamentary documents
- Western Australian legislation
Current (in force) or amending legislation
When you search or browse databases – such as the databases in the lists above – look for legislation that is ‘consolidated’ or ‘in force’. This is current law. Consolidated legislation includes all amendments made by other laws since the legislation was first enacted. It is sometimes called the ‘principal legislation’.
Amending legislation changes existing law. In legal databases, the version that was originally enacted (not including later amendments) is called ‘as made’, ‘as passed’ or, for Acts, ‘as enacted’.
The work of government has its basis in legislation. When you write about a particular policy, service or program, you often need to refer to recent changes to the relevant law (amending legislation). You will also name the legislation that currently applies (consolidated legislation). You might have to write about changes in the law over time. In this case, you would mention amending legislation that is no longer in force.
The text of consolidated legislation includes information to show how it has been amended over time. Look in the endnotes named ‘Legislation history’ and ‘Amendment history’ to find this information.
A useful way to track the history of legislation, particularly for historical material not published online is to use The Office of Parliamentary Counsel (OPC) Legislation tables.
Add detail to citations with notes
Writing about the law and legal matters requires careful citation.
You can use in-text citations and footnotes or endnotes (notes) to provide accurate and complete details.
For general content, in-text citations often give people all the information they need.
- The Major Bank Levy Act 2017imposes a levy on authorised deposit‑taking institutions.
- In South Australia v Commonwealth (First Uniform Tax Case), Chief Justice Latham of the Federal Court ...
Always list the legislation or case name first in a basic note.
Explanatory notes might vary. They can be a useful way to add extra information that would otherwise clutter the content.
Each note has the corresponding superscript reference marker before it. Users find the note by matching the number.
- The levy threshold is indexed quarterly.1 [A superscript reference marker for the first note]
- The legislative basis for parliamentary remuneration and entitlements is complex.2 [A superscript reference marker for the second note]
1Major Bank Levy Act 2017, subsection 4(3). [A basic note corresponding to the first reference marker]
2 Section 48 of the Australian Constitution provides for the payment of members of parliament. Commonwealth Acts include Remuneration and Allowances Act 1990, Remuneration Tribunal Act 1973, Ministers of State Act 1952, ... other Acts and associated delegated legislation. [An explanatory note corresponding to the second reference marker]
In digital content, the reference markers can be hyperlinked to help users access the note. Use hyperlinked endnotes in digital content.
Reference markers and endnotes can be inaccessible to:
- people who have low vision
- people who use screen readers to access content
- users of mobile phones.
If using reference markers and endnotes, ensure they:
- are sized for easier readability
- will display correctly on mobile phones or other small screen devices
- can be made larger by users without loss of content or functionality
- can be read by screen readers.
Seek specialist advice to ensure you achieve this functionality.
In print, follow your organisation’s style preference for footnotes or endnotes. Choose the style that people will find most useful.
Include separate reference lists for legal material in 3 situations
Certain government agencies and specialist legal publications will use a reference list.
Most government writers should only include a reference list if one of these applies:
- People need the list to understand the content.
- The content includes a reference list for non-legal sources.
- It is agency style to have a reference list.
Set up separate lists under the subheadings ‘Legislation’ and ‘Legal cases’. Arrange legislation and legal cases in alphabetical order under these headings.
Write the titles of Acts and legal cases in roman type, even though they’re italicised in the text. Blocks of italics are difficult to read.
[Reference list headings separate legislation from cases]
Long Service Leave (Commonwealth Employees) Regulation 2016
Maintenance Orders (Commonwealth Officers) Act 1966
Major Bank Levy Act 2017
Marine Insurance Act 1909
Dutton v Republic of South Africa  FCA 2
HT v The Queen  HCA 40
South Australia v Commonwealth (1942) 65 CLR 373 (First Uniform Tax Case)
Victorian Railways Commissioners v Brown (1906) 3 CLR 1132
The digital edition has considerable advice on how to cite legal material. It includes new material on Commonwealth tribunals and Australian Tax Office rulings. It expands on sixth edition information on treaties.
The digital edition departs from sixth edition guidance about the capitalisation, punctuation and italicisation of citation elements for some legal material. The current edition also recommends the contraction ‘Cth’ rather than ‘Cwlth’.
These departures are informed by legal material and general publications from Australian courts, government agencies working in the legislative context and academic sources. The digital edition style is for general, rather than specialist, legal content.
The Content Guide briefly mentioned legislation in relation to capitalisation and use of italics. There was no detailed guidance about how to cite legislation.
About this page
Attorney-General’s Department (2017) Style guide, Australian Government, Canberra.
Hansard (2020) Hansard style guide, Department of Parliamentary Services, Parliament of Australia, Canberra.
Melbourne University Law Review Association Inc and Melbourne Journal of International Law (2018) Australian guide to legal citation, 4th edn, Melbourne University Law Review Association Inc, accessed 16 June 2020.
Parliamentary Library (n.d.) Key internet links on Australian law, Parliament of Australia website, accessed 16 June 2020.
University of Technology Sydney and University of New South Wales Faculties of Law (n.d.) Australasian Legal Information Institute (AustLII), AustLII website, accessed 16 June 2020.
Whitbread D and Leary K (2016) AGS editorial style guide, Australian Government Solicitor, Canberra.
This page was updated Thursday 10 June 2021.