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Many, if not indeed most, jurisdictions' (eg Germany, the UK, Australia, Canada, the Court of Justice of the European Union, and the European Court of Human Rights) courts make use of numbered paragraphs for easy citation across a variety of platforms. This avoids issues with citation and allows for (on platforms such as BAILII or AustLII) HTML pinpoint linking to specific parts of judgments. I know that US statutory provisions use paragraph numbering, and a google (I have no formal study of American law) seems to suggest that court papers such as written arguments often require numbered paragraphs. Yet, the US supreme court and (again, from a quick web search) the US state courts do not seem to use this easy and extremely simple innovation to aid citation.

Is there a reason why? Or is this one of those things like inches and Fahrenheit where it's just an American practice that doesn't have a reason?

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    In part, because we use page numbers instead.
    – user6726
    May 12, 2020 at 21:11
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    Like inches and Fahrenheit, the question you should be asking is when and why other common law jurisdictions adopted the practice of numbering paragraphs.
    – phoog
    May 13, 2020 at 3:29
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    A quick look at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lists_of_landmark_court_decisions suggests that the practice was adopted in the UK between 16 and 27 years ago.
    – phoog
    May 13, 2020 at 3:38
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    @curiouseuropean This practice ist not very old in Germany (and I think also for the European Court) either. It comes with publication in the internet that courts give paragraph numbers themself. Before it was numbered (or not) by each legal journal (so potential competing numberings) and cited by page in the (semi-)official collection (in form of books).
    – K-HB
    May 14, 2020 at 18:34
  • "a google (I have no formal study of American law) seems to suggest that court papers such as written arguments often require numbered paragraphs." Practice varies greatly. California requires court documents to have line numbers. Some court documents, such as legal briefs, have page numbers but not paragraph numbers. Motions and "pleadings" such as complaints, have numbered paragraphs in most jurisdictions, but not all. Also, not all U.S. statutes have paragraph numbers and the formats are not consistent even within particular U.S. states.
    – ohwilleke
    Jul 4, 2023 at 3:36

1 Answer 1

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Many U.S. state courts do use numbered paragraphs, including Colorado. But the practice is fairly new and page numbers in privately published reporters was the historically established method of pinpoint citation. Most or all federal courts, and California appellate courts, for example, do not.

The matter is not uniform because the stylistic aspects of appellate court opinion writing is not unified. Each court makes its own rules in that regard. For example, there are even different style rules between different circuits of the U.S. Courts of Appeal, and the U.S. Supreme Court, in turn, also has its own style manual for drafting opinions.

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    I would add that the use of paragraph numbers is highly associated with the move to vendor-neutral citations that don't even have a reporter's pagination to refer to.
    – Jen
    Jul 4, 2023 at 7:58
  • @Jen Agree. Certainly.
    – ohwilleke
    Jul 4, 2023 at 17:30

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