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Law Essay Problem Questions

The formula for tackling a law/legal problem question is as follows:

1. Offer a brief introduction identifying the relevant area of law and any major legislation
or cases that will be relevant
2. Identify relevant issues do not repeat the question or the facts
3. Identify relevant legislation andor case law !use only one or two relevant cases for
each point you ma"e and don#t just regurgitate the facts of the precedent case$
%. &pply the facts to the legislationcase law
'. (onclude !you may not be able to give a definite answer$
)any students lose mar"s by failing to achieve a proper balance of these tas"s e.g. by writing
everything they "now about the law in that area and concluding very briefly in relation to the
facts. *here there are several issues in the question+ you may want to brea" your answer into
sub headings to avoid confusion. *here two issues are dealt with by the same
legislationcase law+ you can include these in one heading to avoid repetition.
Example of a law problem question
,his e-ample applies the formula given above to a problem question. It uses numbers only to
identify which part of the above formula is being dealt with.
.uestion/ 01ohn was employed by 2tealthjet plc in their factory assembling a new top secret
design of high3tech fighter jets for military use. 4e was "illed in an e-plosion at the factory.
4is *idow+ 1essica+ wishes to establish that the defective design of the fighter jets+ or the
system for ma"ing them+ caused the e-plosion+ and so to recover damages from 2tealthjet
plc. &dvise 1essica whether she is li"ely to succeed in a claim against 2tealthjet plc5.
26(,IO7 1 !I7,8O9:(,IO7$ / The principle area that this question is concerned with, is
the doctrine of public interest immunity. This doctrine is intended to ensure that documents
are not revealed in the course of litigation if it is not in the public interest to do so. Originally,
such a claim could only be made by the Crown and was known as Crown Privilege. !n
"uncan v Cammell #aird $%&'() *C +(', the ,ouse of #ords held that any claim made by the
Crown under the doctrine must be accepted- however, this was reversed in Conway v
.immer $%&+/) *c &%0, and it is now for the Courts to decide whether or not it is in the public
interest for the documents to be disclosed.
,his is your introduction. In a problem question this will be very brief+ identifying the area of
law+ and any major cases or statutes that are significant.
26(,IO7 2 / !n this scenario, 1essica will be suing her late husbands employers, 2tealth3et
plc, for negligence in failing to provide him with a safe system of work. 2he will need to obtain
the plans of the fighter 3ets and of their manufacturing system in order to identify the defects
that gave rise to the e4plosion. ,owever, the 5inistry of "efence will want to claim that it is
against the public interest that these plans be disclosed, despite the fact that the 5inistry are
not a party to the case. The course of 6nglish legal proceedings means that disclosing
documents requires them to be revealed to the other parties and their legal representatives,
and to the 3udge. There is ample opportunity for the documents to get into the wrong hands.
4ere you are identifying the major issues and facts you should be loo"ing at any problems
that arise out of the scenario. ,here is no need to repeat the question as this just wastes your
word count and suggests you haven#t really understood what is being as"ed.
26(,IO7 3. !n Conway v .immer, the ,ouse of #ords held that, in deciding whether
documents should be disclosed or not, two aspects of the public interest had to be balanced.
The first was a public interest in ensuring no harm was done to national interest by disclosing
the documents which should be kept secret. The second related to the public interest in
ensuring that the conduct of litigation was not frustrated. !n Conway, the Court distinguished
Academic Legal Writing/2012
between claims based on the contents of the relevant documents, and those based on a
class to which the documents belonged 7 generally, contents claims would be stronger than
class claims. *s a consequence of the 2cott !nquiry into the 5atri4 Churchill affair, the
government announced that it would no longer make class claims, but only claims based on
the contents of particular documents. !f required, the Courts could inspect the documents to
weigh up the value of the arguments for and against disclosure.
,his section deals with the relevant legislation andor case law. ,here is only one case
relevant to this scenario however+ for other areas of law !e.g. contract+ tort$ you may find
there are many+ and you need to be selective+ using only one or two recent valid cases to
support your argument.
26(,IO7 %. *pplying the principles of these cases to the facts of the scenario, it seems
probable that the likelihood of 1essica establishing the liability of 2tealth3et plc will be almost
completely dependent on access to the documents which, if they should reveal design flaws,
will prove her case in themselves. The litigation will be frustrated if she is unable to gain
access to them. ,owever, against disclosure, the public interest immunity claim will be based
on the contents of the documents, and it will be e4tremely difficult to dispute a claim that it will
pose a grave threat to national security if the plans of how to build the new military fighter 3et
$which are 8top secret9) fell into the wrong hands. !nspection of the documents is unlikely to
be necessary to convince the Court that these are genuine state secrets. Comparison may be
made to "uncan v Cammell #aird $%&'() where the *dmirality was clearly 3ustified in wishing
to keep secret the plans of its latest submarine.
,his section applies the relevant legislation andor case law to the facts of the scenario. It
weighs up the strength of each side of the argument but doesn#t yet propose a conclusion
!although it may be apparent as to which argument will succeed$.
26(,IO7 '. :hilst there is no doubt that the Courts have the power to order the disclosure
of documents in the interests of 3ustice, even where their content is sensitive, it is doubtful
that they would do so in this case. *lthough there is a public interest that the litigation is not
frustrated, there is a stronger public interest that the plans to the military 3et do not fall into the
wrong hands, and this would be a strong possibility if disclosure were ordered. The Court is,
therefore, unlikely to order disclosure of the plans that 1essica needs to establish her case
and the case would, therefore, fail.
,he final section is your conclusion. ;ou need to ma"e sure in this section that you have
answered the question posed !i.e. in this case+ whether 1essica is li"ely to succeed$. ,he
conclusion draws together the various parts of your findings you may not+ however+ always
be able to give a firm conclusion. If the outcome depends on some factor you do not "now+
you should say so !and you can give more than one possible outcome in such a case$.
!&dapted from 2ource/ (lements+ 8 < =ay 1 !2>>%'$ (onstitutional and &dministrative ?aw
!3rd 6dition$ O-ford :niversity @ress
Academic Legal Writing/2012