How to Use Ibid in OSCOLA Referencing (And Avoid Losing Marks!)
Why is OSCOLA referencing so time consuming? How come Microsoft Word makes it extremely burdensome to properly cite case law? What on earth does ibid even mean?
Have you found yourself asking these questions when half way through a law assignment? Don’t worry, because you are far from alone. With such a heavy emphasis placed on the accuracy of not only the content of our coursework at law school, but the etiquette of referencing, the pressure to get the finer details of legal assignments correct is overwhelming. The reality of it is, incorrect or inefficient referencing could mean the difference between the receipt of a 2:1 or a 1st in an assignment, so it is important that we understand the use of those little Latin lifesavers that can help us along the way. Hopefully this article will go some way to helping you to engage with your referencing in a better way when writing legal assignments to ensure you know your ibids from your cfs.
What does Ibid mean?
So what does ibid even mean? Ibid. is an abbreviation for the Latin word ibīdem, meaning “in the same place”. So in the context of OSCOLA referencing, it quite simply means that you are referring to the source cited in the preceding footnote. If follows that because “ibid” is an abbreviation, we must follow it with a full stop in our citations – lesson number one, although hopefully by now you are aware that every footnote should end with a full stop anyway. As we are using the term to reference the same authority as the preceding footnote, we cannot use it for example in footnote three to reference the same authority as footnote one, that would not make sense! So that leads us on to lesson two: only ever use ibid to reference the immediately preceding footnote. There are other means and ways of referencing footnotes that happened 26 footnotes ago and ibid is not one of them, so only use ibid in the circumstances of referencing the footnote immediately before.
To dispel a common myth, you can have an “ibid chain”, there is nothing wrong with repeatedly using ibid if you are referencing the same authority for several consecutive footnotes. However, as soon as you break the chain (a bit like causation only even more boring) you cannot use ibid. Instead you must use ‘n (reference the number of the footnote)’ but we will cover that later. You can then return to using ibid if the chain continues.
Pinpoints are not an issue with ibid. simply pinpoint reference the authority as usual using ibid in place of the full citation for the authority name.
- Austin v Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis  UKHL 5 ,  AC 564.
- ibid  (Lord Hope),  (Lord Scott), – (Lord Walker), – (Lord Neuberger).
Now let’s use the example of breaking the “ibid chain” by continuing the above footnotes as follows:
- Human Rights Act 1998, s 2.
- Austin (n 1)  (Lord Hope).
Notice how we cannot use ibid again at footnote four to reference Austin because we have a different authority at footnote three. If footnote four used ibid, it would be referencing the Human Rights Act and not Austin. Note also the use of our (n 1) referencing technique here – because we cannot use ibid, we can use an abbreviated authority reference with a direction of which footnote the full citation can be found at. So what if you have two authorities for the one footnote? Simple, reference them in the same fashion, but when there are two authorities in one footnote, separate them with a semi colon. However, remember that if you are going to use ibid to reference that footnote, you will be re-citing all of the authorities that are contained in that footnote, not just the first one!
Tip: if you have two authorities that you wish to ask the reader to compare in your footnotes, use ‘cf.’ in your note – this stands for the Latin word “confer” which means to compare.
Never italicise ibid! I know we are told throughout our legal education that when we use Latin terminology in pieces of writing it must be italicised, but this is the exception. As ibid has become so widely accepted in English academic writing, we do not need to put it in italics, as much as we would love to.
What is wrong with the following footnote example?
- Corr v IBC Vehicles Ltd  UKHL 13,  1 AC 884
- Arscott v The Coal Authority  EWCA Civ 892,  Env LR 6  (Laws LJ).
- Francis Rose, ‘The Evolution of the Species’ in Andrew Burrows and Alan Rodger (eds), Mapping the Law: Essays in Memory of Peter Birks (OUP 2006).
- Bunt v Tilley  EWHC 407 (QB),  3 All ER 336 –.
- Ibid 
- n 5.
- Jane Croft, ‘Supreme Court Warns on Quality’ Financial Times (London, 1 July 2010) 3.
- ibid .
In footnote one, there should be a full stop after the reference. In footnote two, the party names should be italicised. In footnote 5, ‘ibid’ should not be capitalised and there should be a full stop after the pinpoint reference. At number 6, it would have been more acceptable to use ibid once again. Also if we do chose to reference another footnote, it is best practice to give an abbreviated name of the authority – in this case Bunt would be appropriate. Footnote 8 should not be italicised and footnote 9 appears to reference a pinpoint to paragraph 49 of Bunt, so the correct reference should be “Bunt (n 4) .”
To recap, the rules are:
- End the citation with a full stop
- Only ever use ‘ibid’ to reference the immediately preceding footnote
- We can use ibid more than once consecutively
- Ibid can be used along with a pinpoint reference
- Separate two footnoted authorities with a semicolon
- Never italicise ibid
If you remember these simple concepts, you should not lose marks in your legal writing for poor referencing technique. For a quick sense check, it is always useful to have a look at the Oscola Quick Reference Guide which gives examples of each type of authority. Remember: be consistent with your approach and proofread your footnotes as well as the body of your assignment!