Question of Law

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Related to Point of law: question of fact

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 ?
Because the decision is a key piece of commentary, both on a point of law and the related legislation in the area, I anticipated that there would be some cases since 2002 that cited it.
The recent court decision, issued by Justice Sigurdson on March 20, dismissed the application by the bands, stating the point can't be resolved without evidence, and would not resolve the litigation even if it were put down as a point of law.
The court's decision instead focused on a narrow point of law relating to jurisdiction.
The Supreme Court, the highest in the land, has now refused permission to appeal and said the bid "does not raise an arguable point of law of general public importance".
A panel of three Supreme Court justices examined Assange's application on Friday following the high court's "certification of a point of law of general public importance".
The recommendation of written directions to juries from judges seems a sensible one as anything which clarifies a point of law can only make the final verdict even fairer and more robust.
During the hearing, Ms Hodson said it would be unfair to her client to allow the prosecution further time to prepare their case when they had overlooked a point of law.
The union acted after guidance from Natural England but said it may examine the possibility of a review on a separate point of law.
This is achieved by reviewing all public decisions issued by the court and selecting the relevant legal findings that give an interpretation of the basic rules of the Court; show how a specific basic rule is concretely implemented by the court; clarify a point of law of general importance with respect to international criminal law, international humanitarian law, or international law of human rights; or are otherwise meaningful with respect to international criminal justice.
Human rights lawyers described the decision as a very important point of law which would have a big impact.
He had been due to start a new job as a cleaning supervisor at Heathrow airport on the morning he was arrested but the offer was withdrawn, Yesterday's proceedings were taken up with argument on a point of law which the judge has been asked to decide, relating to evidence.
The NUT's regional secretary Brian Carter replied: "We have our own solicitors, but don't use them at employment tribunals unless there is a point of law.