Answering problem questions: How to approach and structure problem questions Video

Video titled: Answering problem questions: How to approach and structure problem questions Video

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We're going to take a look here at problem question and I'm going to talk you through how we go about building up a methodical answer that combines the facts with the law to enable us to reach conclusions about liability. So this is a quite simple, but otherwise quite standard, problem question here and I'm using criminal law in general, and property offenses in particular, to make the point.

So, the starting point when answering a problem question is to find the issues. And an issue is something that somebody has done that might give rise to legal liability. So your starting point should always be to look at the various people who are mentioned in your scenario and make a list of the things that they've done. Now, it's quite straightforward here because we only have Emma, so we can easily highlight the key things that might give rise to liability here and use them to make a list of the issues.

So we've got two key things here, that she's picked some mushrooms to make into tarts to sell in her pub and that she advertises those as hand-picked and fresh when, on this occasion, they weren't. So we're going to focus on the first one of those and look at the way we would build that up into an answer to a problem question.

So, what we need to do first is to match it to an area of law, so we're looking at theft, and we need to work out what things are required for somebody to incur legal liability. So there are five elements to the offense of theft and each of those then can become a separate issue. And by doing that we can break the offense down into its elements.

We can't ever, whatever area of law were looking at, we can't ever unpick whether or not somebody has liability in one go because all of the law has different components to it. So we need to slice it up into manageable pieces and we build a structure around that. So the five elements of theft give us five issues to address. And you will be familiar, I hope, with the IRAC method that we use to help us to plan answers to problem questions: so that we have five separate issues each based on one of the elements of the offense, which we are going to find out what the rule is that applies, the rule being the law, we're going to apply the law to the facts and reach a conclusion on each.

So here then our issues, again our questions that need to be answered: Are the mushrooms property? Do they belong to someone? Is picking them in an appropriation? And so on. And we'll look at the first point here to look at how we build up our answer.

So our starting point needs to be to find out what the rule is, what the law says. So we're looking here at Section 4 of the Theft Act and we can see we've got our general definition of property at the top there. But down here we've got something specific about mushrooms, which clearly is going to apply to us. So we can see here that, generally, mushrooms growing wild aren't considered to be property for the purposes of theft, but that there's an exception if they're picked for reward, sale, or other commercial purpose. So we can start to think about working that into our answer now that we know what the law requires. And this is the key skill in problem solving: you are working out what the law asks for and looking in your set of facts to see if it is satisfied. So it's really important as part of our planning that we match the rule, the law, and its application, the facts, together. So you can see that here: our starting point is that a person who picks mushrooms growing wild on land does not steal what he picks, the mushrooms are growing wild in the forest, but they will amount to property for the purposes of theft if they're picked for reward, sale, or other commercial purpose, and we know that Emma picks them to make into tarts to sell in her pub, which seems like a commercial purpose. So we can use that in our answer.

So this is what we would have: we have our general issue up here, this is what she's done, she might be liable. We've broken the law down into some of its elements. We explain what the law says and we relate the facts to them in order to reach a conclusion. Which on this first issue about whether or not the mushrooms are property, is yes, they are. So we can continue to look at the next points and build up our answer to that.

So that's how we would use IRAC. You would repeat that for the remaining four issues and then move on to the second point about potential liability for fraud.

The method is really important in problem solving, so do try to practice with IRAC and the key point there is: what does the law ask for? Find evidence in your facts that it exists and then put the two together. And that's the key to success in problem solving.

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