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Legal Research Manual

This edition of Legal Research Manual builds on many previous editions. While the manual is designed principally for use with the first year legal research classes, upper year law students will also find it a useful reference.

Print Reporters

Law book publishers obtain copies of judgments as soon as the reasons are prepared by the judges and filed with the court authorities. The judgments are reviewed and divided by subject, area, and court. The judgments are then sent to the editors of the individual law report series. The editor of the series decides which cases will be included for publication. Cases which extend a legal principle, clarify a controversial point of law, or contain a particularly good discussion of existing law are often reported while cases which the editor considers to be "routine" are left out.

The headnotes are written by the editors. The headnote is a summary of the facts and issues. It summarizes the judge's reasons for deciding the issues a particular way. It also lists the sources -- cases, statutes, regulations, texts and articles -- cited in the case. It may provide subject key words or "catch lines", which are often printed in paragraph format with em-dashes separating the phrases. Headnotes for the same case can vary greatly among different law reports since they are written by the individual report editors.

The editor generally corrects spelling or grammar in the judgment but makes no substantive changes without the judge's permission. The evidence and the arguments for each side only appear insofar as they are summarized in the judgment. Some law report series also include annotations or case comments. These are short articles written by academics or lawyers to highlight the significance of the case and to provide critical independent analysis.

Finally, the editor sends the manuscript of the case report back to the publishing company for the layout and printing of the reports. Most series first publish reports in unbound (paperback) form as advance sheets. Hard-cover (bound) volumes subsequently incorporate the cases reported in the advance sheets and the subject index, tables, etc. are consolidated for that volume. Some report series publish cumulative tables of cases and subject indexes in separate volumes which cover several years. These index volumes can be used in conjunction with secondary sources to locate material on a given legal topic when preparing a factum or legal memo.

Canadian law reports can be national, regional or provincial in their coverage. For example, the Dominion Law Reports (DLR) contain cases of note from across the country while the Ontario Reports (OR) cover only cases from Ontario. There are also many subject-specific or topical reports, such as the Canadian Human Rights Reporter (CHRR), Business Law Reports (BLR), Canadian Criminal Cases (CCC), Canadian Environmental Law Reports (CELR)).  Topical reports have risen in number with the increased specialization of lawyers.

A small number of Report series are classified as Official reports because they are published by the Queen's Printer: 

  • Canada Supreme Court Reports
  • Federal Court Reports
  • Canada Law Reports: Exchequer Court of Canada

This list of official reporters can be found in Appendix C of the McGill Guide ( Call number KE259.C36 2018 Reserve).

There can be, at times, extensive duplication among report series (i.e., the same case may be reported in several law report series, with a slightly different headnote supplied by the various case editors) depending on the level of court and the interest in the case.  At present, there are dozens of law report series in Canada, and the same Supreme Court case might appear in close to a dozen different reports.

Different report series offer a profusion of indexing services which often overlap with each other. Law reports published by the same publisher have uniform indexing features which often make research more convenient. This means that vocabulary is consistent--if you are researching "firing" in the employment context, that concept will probably not be described as "termination" or "downsizing" elsewhere by the same publisher, even though a different publisher might choose to use those terms to describe the same idea.

The following lists the current major report series. It is not a complete list. Many older series and some less frequently used series are not listed.

Major Canadian Law Report Series

National Reports

  • Dominion Law Reports (DLR)
  • Federal Court Reports (FCR)
  • Federal Trial Reports (FTR)
  • National Reporter (NR)
  • Supreme Court Reports (SCR)

Regional Reports

  • Atlantic Provinces Reports (APR)
  • Eastern Law Reporter (East)
  • Maritime Provinces Reports (MPR)
  • Western Weekly Reports (WWR)

Provincial Reports

  • Alberta Reports (AR)
  • New Brunswick Reports 2d (NBR)
  • Newfoundland & Prince Edward Island Reports (Nfld & PEIR)
  • Nova Scotia Reports 2d (NSR)
  • Ontario Reports 3d (OR)
  • Receuils de jurisprudence du Quebec (RJQ)