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Guide to research sources for Canadian and BC law.

How to find a case by name

TIP: It is better to search by a case citation, if you have it, than a case name.

For more info on case names, see the box below on Understanding Case Names.

Searching legal databases by case name

Understanding case names

About case names:
  • Our common law system is adversarial; one side is arguing against another in court. Case names reflect this. They show the name of one party versus ("v") the other.
  • Case names are short. If there are multiple parties, only the first one on each side will be included in the case name.
  • Case names are always in italics.
  • Older cases may label the case name the "style of cause".

It can be tricky to search by case names for two reasons:

  1. Some names are quite common.

  2. If a decision is appealed to a higher court, it will keep the same case name.
    • there can be multiple different court decisions for the same dispute (e.g. a case could go from the BC Provincial Court to the BC Court of Appeal and then the Supreme Court of Canada). Each court writes its own decision. You need to be careful to read the right one.

TIP: It is faster and more precise to search by the case citation than the case name.

Civil case

A civil case name will show the name of the Plaintiff (the person bringing the action) versus the Defendant. Here are two examples:

  • Mustapha v Culligan of Canada Ltd.
  • Carter v Canada (Attorney General)
Criminal case

Image source: JES-BC

A criminal case name will show the Crown versus the Accused. Here is an example:

  • R v Singh

Crimes are considered to be offences against the state, not only an individual victim. The monarch (who wears a crown) is the head of state. The case against a person accused of a crime is led by the Crown Prosecution on behalf of the monarch. Hence, the name of a criminal case will almost always be R v Accused. The letter "R" is short for Regina (Latin for Queen) or Rex (Latin for King), depending on who is on the throne.

Some cases do not disclose the full name(s) of parties involved. Only their initials are given. This is often done to protect the identities of youth in criminal and family law cases. It can be difficult to search for these in legal databases.

For example, if an accused party was named Larry Martin, the case name might be shown as:

  • R v L M, or
  • R v M (L)

The current Canadian legal citation standard (called the "McGill Guide") does not use periods after most abbreviations in case names. 

However, you will come across many case names which include periods, e.g. Mustapha v. Culligan.​ These are likely from older publications, or from courts which have not adopted the McGill style of citation. If you cite these older decisions in a paper, however, you would use the new McGill format and leave out the periods.