Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Style of Cause Definition:

The formal title of the proceedings in a court of law, usually the action number, the name of the court and the full, formal and complete name(s) of the plaintiff(s) and that of all defendant(s).

Related Terms: Guardian Ad Litem, Statement of Claim, Writ

Also known as the style of proceedings or style of the proceedings.

A sample style of cause:

Supreme Court of British Columbia, 09 6435, Victoria Registry, Lloyd Duhaime v Anna-Marie Barbarella Joranski

The party name portion of the style of cause is adapted to the type of litigation. For example, in a presumption of death case, there is no defendant. Similarly, in an adult guardianship case or in the probate of a will.

In those instances, the name of the subject matter is part of the style of cause and may be preceded by the words "In the matter of ...." or, in substitute or in addition thereto, the name of the governing statute such as "In the Matter of the Presumption of Death Act and Mr. Fancy He's Gone".

However, in the vast majority of cases brought before a court of law, there is a live dispute between litigants, he or she or the corporation who initiates the action, the plaintiff or claimant, is usually named first in the style of cause, often separated by either the word "And" or "versus" or "vs." or "v.", both short form for versus. This is then followed by the full name of the parties defending, often called defendants or respondents.

Most important is the indication in the style of cause of any named party that is suing or being sued in a representative capacity, such as a guardian ad litem or a executor of an estate.

In a criminal law action, the proceedings are taken by the government who are always named first. That litigant is referred to, in the style of cause, in Commonwealth states, as The Queen or, historically, The King or even Regina. The defendant in criminal proceedings is always the accused, again, referred to by full name.

Also, as in the United States, The State v..... or The People v.....

It is essential that the style of cause include the correct and full names of all the defendant against whom relief is sought. In State Savings Bank v Columbia Iron Works, before the Ontario High Court of Justice, the judge wrote:

"... through a clerical error the addresses of the several defendants herein were accidentally omitted.... I am therefore obliged to hold that the writ in this case was issued per incuriam, and that the same was a nullity and should be set aside."

Even a typographical error in a name within a style of cause can require an amendment to the pleadings, an annoying reality in those jurisdictions which allow one amendment without leave, and leave of the court for any others.

Naming a corporation properly in a style of cause is essential and any substantial error in regards to the corporate litigant could prove fatal to the claim.

Increasingly, the courts are tolerant to errors in the style of cause to a degree, allowing corrections rather than setting aside the entire file and requiring a fresh action. In P.F.P. Installations, Justice Stevenson of the New Brunswick Supreme Court refused to dismiss a claim in which the representative capacity of the plaintiffs was improperly made out, and the addresses of some o the litigants omitted:

"While the writ here was irregular to the extent of the matters complained of in the first and third grounds on this application the irregularities are not in my view fatal and might be cured by amendment. Justice is not to be defeated by a strictly technical application of the Rules of Court."

But in another case, Galloway v City of Edmonton, the names were incomplete and the matter struck out.

In either relevant statutes or within rules of court, the required content of a style of cause for a particular court can be spelled out in detail. For example, the Rules of the Supreme Court of Canada (2011), §22.


  • Galloway v Edmonton, 38 CPC 2d 42 (1988)
  • P.F.P. Installations v. United Association of Journeymen and Appentices of the Plimbing and Pipefitting Industry, Local 213, 10 NBR 2d 323 (1975)
  • Rules of the Supreme Court of Canada, SOR/2002-156
  • State Savings Bank v. Columbia Iron Works, (1903) 6 O.L.R. 358

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