What’s in a name? Deciphering the secret world of “Styles of Cause”

Chances are you’ve seen or heard the name of a legal case. Lawyers call this the “style of cause.” Once you’ve cracked the code for a style of cause, there’s a lot of information in one short title!

Format: A v B

Styles of cause are formatted in the same basic form:

Name of Plaintiff v Name of Defendant/ Respondent

The plaintiff is the person bringing the case before the court. The defendant/respondent is the person who must defend the charge or respond to the claim. Where there are multiple plaintiffs and/or defendants, the name of the first plaintiff and defendant, respectively, will be used.

Illustration of styles of cause.

What do names mean?

A natural person (an individual human, rather than a private or public organization) is represented in a style of cause by their last name. Therefore, If Bill Smith is suing Bob Jones, the style of cause will be Smith v Jones.

Corporations are also legal persons. In a style of cause a corporation is represented by its official corporate name. Therefore, if General Motors is suing City National Leasing, the style of cause will be General Motors of Canada Ltd v City National Leasing.

Other types of legal persons can also bring and respond to legal cases and will represented by their official names. These types of legal persons include non-governmental organizations, First Nations, Crown Corporations, etc.

“R” stands for Crime (sort of)

In a criminal case, the person bringing the case is the Crown. In a criminal case the name of the “plaintiff” is represented by the letter R—this is short for Regina (Queen) or Rex (King). Therefore, if John Brown is being charged with a criminal offence, the style of cause will be R v Brown.

…but the government is more than “R”!

R is not the only way to represent a government entity in a style of cause. Cases can also be brought by or against a government entity in the form of challenging the constitutionality of law or a decision made by the government entity. For example, if Terri Jean Bedford is challenging the constitutionality of a federal law, she will bring the claim against Canada, as represented by the Attorney General. The style of cause will be Bedford v Canada (Attorney General). If Grassy Narrows First Nation brings a case challenging the decision of the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, the style of cause will be Grassy Narrows First Nation v Ontario (Natural Resources).

Don’t say “vee!”

In Canada, the “v” separating the two parties is not pronounced “vee” when speaking. We just say “and”. Americans say “vee”, and you’ve probably heard this on TV, but avoid a rookie mistake in Canada and say “and” when dividing the names of parties to a proceeding!

– Isabelle Crew (3L, Faculty of Law, Queen’s University)