Question of Law

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Question of Law

An issue that is within the province of the judge, as opposed to the jury, because it involves the application or interpretation of legal principles or statutes.

At any stage in a proceeding, before or during trial, a judge may have to determine whether to let a jury decide a particular issue. In making this determination, the judge considers whether the issue is a question of law or a question of Fact. If the question is one of fact, it should be decided by the jury at trial. If the question is one of law, the judge may decide it without affording the parties the opportunity to present evidence and witnesses to the jury.

A question of law involves the interpretation of principles that are potentially applicable to other cases. In contrast, a question of fact requires an interpretation of circumstances surrounding the case at hand. Resolving questions of fact is the chief function of the jury. Resolving questions of law is a chief function of the judge.

If the pleadings and initial evidence in a case show that there are no factual disputes between the parties, a court may grant Summary Judgment to a party. Summary judgment is a final judgment in the case made by the court before trial. A court may grant summary judgment in a case that contains no factual disputes because such a case presents only a question, or questions, of law, so the fact-finding function of the jury is not needed.

On appeal, the trial court's ruling on a question of law generally receives closer scrutiny than a jury's findings of fact. Being present at the trial, the fact finder is in a better position than the appeals court to evaluate evidence and testimony.

An issue may be characterized on appeal as a mixed question of law and fact. A mixed question occurs when the facts surrounding the case are admitted and the rule of the applicable law is undisputed; the issue then is whether the Rule of Law was correctly applied to the established facts. In a criminal case, for example, assume that a trial court, over the objection of the defendant, allows the prosecution to present evidence that the defendant was identified as the perpetrator. If the defendant is found guilty and challenges the identification procedure on appeal, the question is one of both law and fact. The appeals court must decide whether the trial court correctly applied the law on due process in identification procedures to the particular identification procedure used in the case. In such a case, the appeals court will scrutinize both the facts and the trial judge's rulings on questions of law.

Further readings

Thomas, Janet Shiffler. 1984. "Likelihood of Confusion Under the Lanham Act: A Question of Fact, A Question of Law, or Both?" Kentucky Law Journal 73.

question of law

n. an issue arising in a lawsuit or criminal prosecution which only relates to determination of what the law is, how it is applied to the facts in the case, and other purely legal points in contention. All "questions of law" arising before, during, and sometimes after a trial are to be determined solely by the judge and not by the jury. "Questions of law" are differentiated from "questions of fact," which are decided by the jury and only by the judge if there is no jury. (See: question of fact, trier of fact, judge)

References in periodicals archive ?
In a judgment last month, the Chief Judge of the Employment Court, Judge Colgan, said the court should hear and determine some preliminary questions of law "before embarking on what will, by any account, be a lengthy and complex hearing into issues of equal pay and/ or pay equity in employment in the residential aged care sector".
42) Leave to appeal could be granted by a provincial Court of Appeal on any question "that ought to be submitted to the Supreme Court for decision," (43) which could (theoretically) include both questions of law and questions of fact, although the latter is unlikely to be deemed worthy of submission to the SCC.
21) At least 15 other jurisdictions deem questions of how to word the instructions in a given case, and whether to instruct a jury on a particular point, to be at least in part questions of law.
89) In this clause, Congress explicitly stated the jury's right to decide questions of law in criminal cases.
They raise uncertain questions of law and have therefore been referred to the ECJ.
But such a petition can be filed only if a senior counsel certifies that the matter involves important questions of law.
His functions include acting as counsel for the Commonwealth, giving opinions on questions of law to the Attorney-General and carrying out such other functions ordinarily performed by counsel.
The hearing was adjourned till date in office subject to availability of the bench and directed the Attorney General to prepare himself with arguments pertaining to questions of law involved in the case.
He said the apex Court had been dealing with references since 1954 of Yousuf Patel in which specific questions of law were raised.
The bench stated that the petition involved several important questions of law.
allowing injunctions and important questions of law to be heard, in the first instance, in the Employment Court; and
The 4-3 majority ruled that "statutory tribunals empowered to decide questions of law are presumed to have the power to look beyond their enabling statutes in order to apply the whole law to a matter properly before them.