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.
Published by The Stationery Office, it forms part of the authoritative Point of Law series and serves to interpret how the requirements of the legislation affects anyone holding records of living individuals.
Connor cited insufficient evidence and said the jurors focused on the wrong point of law.
The point of law is to direct society toward these things.
The point of law is based on, among other cases, the Supreme Court of Canada's Delgamuukw decision that said Aboriginal title to the land has not been extinguished or surrendered.
And, of course, there are more than one of these legal pyramids, each balanced on a single point of law, but they increasingly overlap each other as they grow larger and more complex layers of case law and policy each year.
Occasionally, a ruling is of interest not only because of the point of law considered - but also because of the insight provided to the details of other taxpayers' situations.
The court's decision instead focused on a narrow point of law relating to jurisdiction.
BUZZARDS remain protected (Chronicle, November 21) but a clear point of law was decided last week by the High Court: Natural England (NE), which decides all wildlife management licences, must consider any application for the control of protected birds on its merits, without distinguishing between species or the purpose for which a licence is being sought.
Judges in Belfast yesterday agreed to certify a point of law question for William Wong's lawyers to take to the Supreme Court in London.
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".
Member states' domestic courts, which are the first-level judges in matters of Community law, can and in some cases must turn to the Court of Justice for clarification of a point of law, for instance to ensure the conformity of a national law with Community legislation.