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Study Questions

There is rarely a single right answer to Public Law essay or problem questions. The Answer Plans that follow identify the relevant material, key authorities and offer a suggested structure for tackling the given Question set.

Problem questions require application of law to the given facts. Essay questions, an objective, discursive analysis of all sides of the given issue with discursive critique, evaluation, advocacy of reform as required.

Common to all Answers is the importance of your effective use of and verification by primary source authorities and other referenced sources.

Whilst this sample is arranged by topic and chapter, you should always be mindful of topic overlap and use a ‘joined up’ approach accordingly. To illustrate, an essay question on prerogative powers may well also embrace topic areas including Conventions; Government; Responsible Government; Judicial Review and constitutional reform.

Part 1 - General Introduction

Chapter 1 – Introduction: The Scope of Constitutional Law

Q. Evaluate the Advantages and Disadvantages of “Written” and of “Unwritten” Constitutions

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Chapter 2 – Sources of the Constitution

 Q. Explain the Sources of the United Kingdom constitution

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Part 2 -  Fundamental Constitutional Concepts

Chapter 3 – The Rule of Law

Q. Does Dicey’s account of the Rule of Law bear comparison with contemporary constitutional practice in the United Kingdom?

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Chapter 4 – The Separation of Powers

Q. Explain the theory & purpose of the Separation of Powers and assess the extent to which it operates in the workings of the UK constitution.

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Chapter 5 – The Royal Prerogative

Q. What is the Royal Prerogative? Which are the principal Crown prerogative powers exercised by Ministers and why are there increasing calls for reform concerning these powers?

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Chapter 6 – Parliamentary Sovereignty

Q. Is Parliamentary Sovereignty the ‘jewel in the crown’ of the United Kingdom constitution?
(There is pertinent overlap in the sample Question for Chapter 8, the relationship between EU law and national law)

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Part 3 - The European Community and Union

Chapter 7 – Structures and Institutions                                

A Question on this area is likely to concentrate upon the history of development of what is now the EU, the various institutions, their functions and powers, how they work with each other and with member states, as well as issues such as transparency, accountability and the vexed issue of whether the EU is, is becoming or will become akin to or an actual state in itself rather than a supra-national entity

Chapter 8 - European Union Law and National Law          

Q. A (fictitious) European Union Water Pollution Directive took effect on 4th January 2011. It provides ‘Sewage must be chemically treated before being discharged into rivers’. The United Kingdom Parliament passes the (fictitious) Sewage Act 2011 (in force 27th June 2011) which provides that “Raw sewage must not be discharged into rivers unless there is no reasonable alternative”.

On 28th Junes 2011 Wessex Waste and Sewage plc (‘WWS’) won the contract to dispose of all sewage in the county of Wessex (‘Wessex’). It immediately began discharging raw sewage into the River Steam. Pursaunt to the contract, Wessex plc receives some central Government funding.  The contract allows WWS to charge Wessex although the price for the job is strictly controlled by the regulator.

WWS says that discharge into the river is the only practicable manner of disposal and that the price regulation means that it cannot afford to treat the sewage before disposing of it.

Maxwell is in business selling oysters to restaurants. His licence to harvest oysters is limited to a stretch of the River Steam where WWS discharges sewage. None of Maxwell’s customers will buy his oysters, fearing contamination, and his business is facing financial ruin.

Advise Maxwell whether

  • He can enforce the Directive in a UK court, and
  • WWS’s claim that an Act of Parliament applies rather than the EU law and accordingly it is acting lawfully in discharging raw sewage into the river.

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Part 4  - Central, Regional and Local Government

Chapter 9 - Central Government

A Question here is likely to focus upon the nature, functions and powers of the U.K. Government as well as relationships such as between Prime Minister and Cabinet, Ministers and Civil Servants, often over-lapped with Responsible Government, as illustrated in the following Question

Chapter 10 – Responsible Government 
(Responsible Government also arises in the Sample Question straddling chapters 13, 14 and 15, Part V, Parliament, below)

Q. Why is Central Government generally so strong?

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Chapter 11 – Devolution and Local Government

Q. What measures of devolution have been taken in the United Kingdom and what impact have they had?

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Part 5 - Parliament

Chapter 12 – The Electoral System

Again, an Assessment Question on this topic alone is uncommon, many institutions not devoting much time to it in course study. The ‘stock value’ of the pros and cons of First-Past-the-Post (‘FPTP’) and alternative voting systems may have dropped following rejection by referendum of the Coalition’s proposal to change from FPTP to the Alternative Vote system, this – and the mechanics of the various proportional and other systems used in other UK elections - is about all that may be asked so once asked, and the same territory cannot be examined over and over. There may be renewed debate with the government recommendation of a wholly or 80% elected Second Chamber to replace/reform the appointed House of Lords

Key issues to be explained, illustrated and evaluated might would include

  • Efficiency, effectiveness, simplicity of each system
  • ‘Safe seats’, minority parties and ‘Independents’
  • Constituency link
  • Proportionality in local and national representation
  • Strong, stable government
  • Engagement of the electorate
  • Coalition, including specific reference to current UK experience

Chapter 13 – Introduction to the House of Commons             )
Chapter 14 – The Legislative Process                                        )
Chapter 15 – Scrutiny of the Executive                                     )

Just as with a question requiring a narrative exposition of the institutions of the EU, a question asking you to trawl through the procedure by which a Bill or Statutory Instrument is passed is not going to be common. The answer may be looked up easily enough anyhow, meeting the well-established test of ‘knowing where to find the answer’.

Instead, the illustrative Question here focuses upon chapters 13 and 15.

Q. What are the Functions of the House of Commons? How effective is it in the discharge of these Functions?

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Chapter 16 – The House of Lords

Q. How Would You Reform the House of Lords and Why?

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Chapter 17 – Parliamentary Privilege                                      

Assessment Questions on this (sole) area are uncommon. You might be posed a discursive essay on the history, point and possible reform of Privilege. Or you might face a problem question perhaps having to advise on scenarios concerning ‘arrest’ or ‘free speech’. Either is likely to borrow from recent events (criminal proceedings, conviction and imprisonment after the 2009 expenses scandal as well as alleged abuse in ‘outing’ beneficiaries of so-called super-injunctions). 

Part 6 - The Individual and the State

Chapter 18 – The Protection of Human Rights                 )
Chapter 19 – Freedom of Expression and Privacy            )

Q. Parliament passes the Publications Act 2011 (‘the Act’) making it a ‘public interest duty’ for anyone intending to publish an article or other written communication upon a ‘designated public interest matter’ to submit the proposed publication to the Home Secretary for permission to publish. The Act makes it an offence, punishable with imprisonment and sequestration of assets, to publish without such permission.

Pursuant to this enabling Act, the Home Office makes the Designated Matter (Terrorism and Multi-culturalism) Order 2011 (‘the Order’), making ‘terrorism and multi-culturalism’ a designated public interest matter. Megan is a freelance journalist who has been investigating and reporting upon policing and community relations in her locality after a number of suspected terrorists in the area who had been detained without charge and then, eventually, released. Her series of articles published in the main regional newspaper has enjoyed considerable and growing readership.

Megan is utterly incensed that her articles may now be banned. She wishes to bring court action challenging the Act and the Order, believing that her human rights must have been breached.

a) Which of Megan’s human rights appear to have been breached?
b) How may the Government be able to justify its interference with those rights?
c) What powers will the court have in relation to the Act and the Order?

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Chapter 20 – Freedom of Association and Assembly            )              
Chapter 21 – The Police and Police Powers                           ) 
(Freedom of Expression (Chapter 19) also features here of course)

Q. ‘Peace Thru Dialogue’ (PTD) is holding a 3-hour static open-air meeting, with speeches, today (a Friday) in central Birmingham. Supporters are being transported in from all over the country. 

The police are tipped off that 20 to 30 members of an anarchist group,‘Trouble In the Cities’ (TIC) will be mingling with the crowd at the demonstration. TIC has no declared goal but its website ‘blog’ is always entitled ‘Direct, Disruptive Action’ and its activists regularly start fights at public Protests organised by others. The senior officer in charge tells her officers that whilst the record of behaviour of most ‘mainstream’ PTD supporters has generally been very good, she expects trouble.

Acting upon intelligence, the police monitor a bus carrying supporters from Blackpool. They stop it on the M6 near Birmingham. The police do not allow anyone off the bus. They search the bus and find items they consider capable of being used as weapons. The police tell the passengers that they consider a breach of the peace imminent. They make no arrests but instruct the driver to turn around and drive the passengers back to Blackpool immediately, without stops on the way. The police escort the bus back the entire way. The journey back takes 2 hours 20 minutes.

Approximately 4000 PTD supporters attend the demonstration. It passes off without major incident although 22 TIC supporters are arrested for shouting ‘fascist pigs’ at the police and chanting ‘fight, fight, fight, fight’. The last speech over, the assembly ends at 4pm.

The Friday ‘rush hour’ is established and will last until 7pm. There are 5 road exits, one of which could be used to funnel off the crowd without too much disruption to traffic but would entail the protestors passing the Military Arms Procurement headquarters. The police cordon off the area, confining the crowd, and announce to the crowd that no-one within the police cordon will be allowed to leave without police permission. The crowd is held there until 7.15pm. 

Explain the legal issues arising.
Note: you may assume that requisite advance notice of the demonstration was given to the police.

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Chapter 22 – State Security                                                    

Q. Has there been a shift in the balance between the protection of the human rights of the individual on the one hand and safeguarding national security on the other in the United Kingdom since ‘9/11’? Where should the balance be struck?

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Part 7 - Introduction to Administrative Law

Chapter 23 – Judicial Review: Introduction, Jurisdiction and Procedure)                                  
Chapter 24 – Grounds for Judicial Review I: the Substantive Grounds for Judicial Review)

Chapter 25 – Grounds for Judicial Review II: Procedural Grounds: Procedural Impropriety )   

Q. Meredith District Council has statutory powers relating to the ownership and management of playing fields and recreational open spaces. It recently bought a large field from Gladys Rollafella for use as a playing field. Gladys is passionate about football so when purchasing the land the Council promised her that the proposed new playing field would only be used for football.

The playing field has been in use for 2 months. Gladys is now the manager of one of the football teams that use it for local league matches. Her team is called ‘Cameron’s Cubs’, named after the Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative Party. The Council, which is Labour-controlled, uses its land management powers to ban Cameron’s Cubs from playing on the playing field until it changes its name to ‘Labour’s Lads’. Gladys and the team players do not wish to change the team’s name.

The Council has also decided, following representations from local organisations representing other sports that the playing field is from now on to be used not just for football. It already has firm fixtures for hockey, rugby and cricket.

Advise Gladys upon

  • Legal grounds of challenge to what the Council has done; and
  • Likely remedy or remedies, should she win.

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a)   What constitutes Bias as a ground for Judicial Review?

b)   What are the procedural requirements for someone to be able to bring a court action in Judicial Review?

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Chapter 26 – Commissioners for Administration and Tribunals

Not a likely area for Assessment as most courses do not devote appreciable time to coverage of ‘extra-parliamentary’ matters and other relatively marginal topics such as Tribunals and Inquiries.

General Question

Q. Assess the impact of the major constitutional changes made since 1997

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