Public Law Report

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Examiner’s report 2009

Examiner’s report 2009
2650020 Public law Zone A General remarks
As in previous years, the standard of examination scripts varied from first class to poor fails, although it is pleasing to note that the quality of the scripts improves year by year, both in terms of knowledge and in the construction of coherent answers. There are a number of features which are peculiar to Public law examinations, and these require a rather different approach from those subjects which are examined primarily through problem questions rather than essay questions. The first of these relates to the analysis of the question. Public law examination questions, unlike many other legal subjects, are mostly (but not exclusively) essay questions which are usually quite broad in scope. The most important task to be undertaken is correctly to interpret the question and understand exactly what is being asked for. Far too many candidates see a question on, say, the House of Lords and proceed to tell the examiner ‘all they know’ about the House of Lords without any reference to the actual question on the paper. Such an approach usually leads to failure. The second feature is that of style. An essay question requires an answer which (generally) involves an introduction, analysis and conclusion. This requires careful planning in terms of the use of theory and authorities and the construction of a logical argument. The third issue is that of the citation of authorities, in particular case law. Relative to subjects such as the Law of contract, Public law has few cases. However, those cases are important and candidates must be able to cite them accurately and to demonstrate that they understand their significance. If there is a line of cases for discussion, these should be discussed in a logical order (usually by date), and candidates should be able to cite the name of the case and if not the full citation, at least the date on which it was decided. It is not acceptable to keep referring to ‘a decided case’, without name or date. More generally, and as a practical matter, it is important that candidate can offer a coherent answer of sufficient length. Tutors are often asked ‘how much should I write’, and the answer to this, of course, varies. The key issue is whether you have given a sufficiently detailed analysis of the question to gain a good mark. This is rarely (even with fairly small handwriting) possible in less than three sides of the examination booklet. In most cases, the best candidates will write significantly more than this.

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2650020 Public law Zone A

Specific comments on questions
Question 1 ‘Under the United Kingdom’s constitution, constitutional conventions play a key role in maintaining flexibility. Their lack of clear definition and uncertain application, however, make reform essential.’ Discuss. What, if anything, is your preferred option for reform? This question on the role of constitutional conventions under the United Kingdom’s unwritten constitution generated some very good and some very bad answers. The strongest candidates were able to explain the uncodified constitution and its gradual evolution. They then defined constitutional conventions, with examples, with a view to illustrating the manner in which conventions provide for constitutional flexibility. Some of the best answers analysed the working of collective and individual ministerial responsibility as examples of conventions lacking ‘clear definition’ and ‘uncertain application’, and explaining how they change over time. As to reform, few candidates took the view that they should be placed under a statutory code, mainly on the grounds that this would introduce rigidity. The strongest candidates also explained how this development would potentially alter the balance between the executive, parliament and judiciary. The most common error was a failure to read the question with care. This led a number of candidates to ignore conventions and to...
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