Uk Constitution Law Exams Essay

Law school is… different, and so is the approach to answering problem based questions. The IRAC method will help you structure your exams and essays, so forget everything you currently know about answering questions and take a read!

What does IRAC mean?

  • Issue: identify the issue.
  • Rule: state the rule/law.
  • Analysis: discuss the law in respect to the facts.
  • Conclusion: provide your conclusion.


Don’t be deceived – it’s harder than it looks

It looks pretty simple, right? Don’t get me wrong, the idea behind IRAC is as simple as things can get – the difficulty is in the execution.

An easy way to explain IRAC is to talk about the things that are most likely to trip you up when using it.

Don’t write an introduction

We are taught during high school and most university courses to rehash the facts or situation as part of an introduction for any answer we give.

At law school, a problem based question simply doesn’t need one. Instead, just write down the issue as a question or a statement. For example: “the issue in this situation is whether plaintiff’s title to the property is indefeasible.” That’s it – now move on to the rule section.

I remember writing a short introduction in a problem based assignment (which I thought was different to an exam, for some unknown reason) even when the lecturer told us not to! In my defence it was early on in my first year (fine – second half of my first year).

A problem that many law students face is failing to adapt to the academic environment of law school. It takes time to reverse old habits and realise that an introduction is no longer necessary.

Don’t pad your answer

Answers in law school should be concise and relevant – the IRAC method will assist, but you still need to consider everything you write down and query whether its relevant. Fluff and padding will not help your marks and will not make up for the fact that you don’t know what you’re talking about. Save the extra words for those 7,500 and 10,000 word essays!

Being concise is particularly important in exams when you have time limits to separate students into into credit, distinction and high distinction categories. Expressed bluntly, you can’t bullshit your way through a legal question.

This is enforced by lecturers by imposing low word limits. A 3,000 word assignment might sound like a lot before you start but most people will find themselves at the end scrambling to delete words.

Word limits are also used to identify students who understand the most important concepts and reward them for it. You will always get the most marks if you:

  • can identify the key issues (relevance); and
  • are able to thoroughly consider the issues for each (being concise).

This might mean you need remove any discussion of minor ancillary issues, even if what you wrote is correct.

For example, a 30 mark essay capped at 1500 words might in fact have 40 marks available, depending on what your response is. This generally gives the lecturers some scope when marking papers. However, you would need to write far more than 1500 words to discuss all the issues to get all those marks, which is obviously not allowed.

Write on point and with precision and you will increase your chances to score full marks.

Don’t revisit your answer in your conclusion

Don’t rewrite your answer in your conclusion section. Your conclusion is essentially a “yes” or “no” response to the issue (eg “the plaintiff’s title to the property is not indefeasible”). Similar to the issue section, limit it to one sentence and spend your effort on the far more important analysis section – this is where all the marks lie.

Be flexible with the rule and analysis sections, and structure your answer to help the reader

The ideal question to answer is one where the various issues you need to discus and explain are entirely separate from one another and your structure is literally: issue; rule; analysis; and conclusion (perhaps repeated three or four times). You might get a few of these in an exam, but unfortunately, they are not in abundance!

Most questions, will have overlapping issues and this is where structure becomes very important. For written essays and assignments you will have time to plan this out properly. In exams, it will come down to practice, so make sure you run through as many practice exams as you can to find out the best structure for any particular question (exam topics are frequently repeated so you can figure out what will be on your exam early).

The IRAC method is not for all types of questions

You might have already picked it up, but the IRAC method works best with problem based questions. If you’ve got a “discuss the the advantages and disadvantages of indefeasibility in property law” kind of question, then first of all I feel genuinely sorry for you, and secondly, you will need to find another way to answer this question.

IRAC answer examples

It’s easier to explain this method if by looking at an example IRAC answer. The below examples are very brief and don’t go into much caselaw detail, but they should suffice for a general example.

I have chosen the first one from criminal law because this is usually taught early on in most degrees. The second is in a different post on exam scripts, and is from a key area in contract law.

The words in [square brackets] or in italics are to indicate [structure] or are just general commentary and would not be included in your answer.

Criminal law IRAC example – Murder/manslaughter

[Exam heading] Murder

[Exam heading] Issue

  • Did D commit murder?
  • Can prosecution charge D with murder?

[Exam heading] Law and Analysis

  • [Exam heading] (a) Mens Rea
    • (State the law)
    • (This is the analysis) In this situation,  [there is insufficient evidence of intention]
  • [Exam heading] (b) Actus reus
    • (State the law)
    • (This is the analysis) Here, it is clear that D’s actions were voluntary, and that the act caused the death of V.
    • (Still the analysis) It could be argued that [act] was actually [something else], and therefore should not be considered voluntary. This was argued in [key case], however here, [the other important factor in key case] was not present, which means that any argument from D that actus reus is not made out is unlikely.
    • (I can’t remember much of crim, but usually an exam question will have a factual scenario that plays on the facts of a key case. For example, in this question there might be something in the facts which requires you to discuss how the “voluntary” act is similar or different to a voluntary act in the key case. Refer to it and make a conclusion. If the chief examiner is particularly cruel, they will blend a factual scenario from two key cases, and you will need to refer to both and make a call on what is more applicable.)

[Exam heading] Conclusion

  • D unlikely to be charged with murder. While there is sufficient evidence for actus reus, there is no mens rea.

(You will now want to determine whether D can be charged with a lesser office based on a different mens rea. To make the best use of time, refer back to what you have already written in the murder section.

Just as a warning – only refer back to things in the same answer. Sometimes, different questions in an exam booklet will be marked by different people. They might not have time to skip back to a different question to find something you have written.)

[Exam heading] MANSLAUGHTER

[Exam heading] Issue

  • Can D be charged with manslaughter?

[Exam heading] Law and Analysis

  • [Exam heading] (a) Mens rea
    • The mens rea for manslaughter is… (as I said above, it’s been a looooong time since I studied criminal law. I have no idea what elements should go here. Recklessness?? Also, surely law students learn that this is the “fault element” now?)
    • In this situation… (apply facts)
  • [Exam heading] (b) Actus reus
    • The elements for manslaughter are the same as for murder. These have been discussed above and are present in this situation.

[Exam heading] Conclusion

  • D is likely to be charged with manslaughter as fault and external elements are all present.

(Part of your job is to make life easy for the marker. That’s the great thing about IRAC – it provides an ideal structure to frame your answer around. However, when you don’t need to write much then the structure can feel very forced. If you think your answer is going to look a bit stupid, just put everything in the one paragraph, but make sure you stick to the IRAC structure. See the below paragraph for an example.)

[Alternative manslaughter IRAC section]

(Issue) As murder is unlikely to be found, an alternative charge of manslaughter should be considered. (The following is law and analysis for actus reus) The actus reas for manslaughter is identical to murder, and is therefore present, as discussed above. (Next up, law and analysis for mens rea) However, the mens rea is different. The mens rea for manslaughter is…. [state law, discuss]. (Conclusion) Therefore, it is likely/unlikely that D will be charged with manslaughter.

Contract law IRAC example – termination of contracts

In my post on exam scripts you will find an IRAC example for termination of contracts. It’s from one of my old exam scripts and is a little more detailed than the above example for criminal law.

Want some help with a practice exam question?

If you have a practice exam question that you’re working on and you would like a second set of eyes taking a look, email me a copy of the exam (or upload it using the contact form below) and I’ll see if I can work through it. (I won’t look at any current essay questions you’re working on – speak to your class mates about those.)


If you found this helpful, please share it around!

examsnote takingstudy techniques

Assessments in public law tend to include either essay-based questions or problem based questions or a combination of both. Some topics lend themselves more readily to one or other of these types of question, whilst others are equally suited to either. The techniques associated with answering essay or problem-based questions are the same as for any other legal subject.  Listed below are questions relating to each of the chapters together with some suggestions as to the matters that should be discussed. Essay-based questions require much more by way of discussion and should only be attempted if you have read widely around the subject. Problem-based questions are more focussed but require detailed knowledge of the relevant law to be answered effectively. For further examples of questions and how to answer them, see Richard Clements and Philip Jones, Q&A Public Law (OUP).

Chapter 1: The British constitution

A correspondent to the Daily Mail (27 May 2003) wrote: 'The fact is that there is no such thing as constitutional law. Some Britons like to imagine that certain laws are somehow "constitutional" because they lay down the way in which our political system functions. But every one of these laws could be repealed tomorrow in the two houses of Parliament.'

How far do you agree with this statement?

The format of this question is a fairly standard one. There is a quotation followed by a question or instruction. The quotation is helpfully designed to prompt discussion by indicating one or more issues that should be considered.

Matters to be discussed here might include:

  • The nature of constitutions – what is meant by terms such as constitution, constitutional?

  • The nature of constitutional law – is it different from ordinary law? How is it identified?

  • How do these terms apply in the context of the UK?

  • Is the writer's viewpoint justified? Is it totally justified; completely unjustified? Or partially justified? Does the answer depend on the different ways in which the term constitution is used?

Chapter 2: Features of the constitution

To what extent do you consider that the checks and balances in the British constitution provide for a proper separation of powers?

As with the previous question, this invites a response as to whether the statement is or is not supportable, though the word 'proper' suggests that a more definite answer is required – there either is a proper separation of powers or there is not.

Matters to be discussed here might include:

  • What is meant by the idea of the separation of powers? How does the idea of checks and balances fit into it?

  • What checks and balances are there in the British constitution? Who exercises checks and on whom? How effective are they? Have recent changes had any impact on this debate?

  • Is the balance between the various individuals and bodies adequate?

Chapter 3: Parliamentary sovereignty

'Parliamentary sovereignty has gone. It has been replaced by Community sovereignty.' (Lord Denning, The Times, 3 November 1986)


This is a further variation on the theme illustrated by the previous two questions. The word 'discuss' is less focussed or directing than the words used in the previous examples, and simply invites a discussion of the issues raised by the quotation.

Matters to be discussed here might include:

  • What is meant by the term parliamentary sovereignty?

  • What legal impact has membership of the European Community had on the UK? Has anything changed since Lord Denning made this statement?

  • What might lead someone to adopt the viewpoint expressed by Lord Denning? Is his view justified? Is his view accurate or does he overstate or understate the position?

Chapter 4: Parliament

1. 'The first and foremost object of reforming zeal ought in my opinion to be the system of Parliamentary representation or rather misrepresentation.' (HWR Wade, Constitutional Fundamentals)

How far do you agree with this statement?

Matters to be discussed here might include:

  • The nature of the electoral system, which should be subjected to a critical examination.

  • What factors might cause someone to express the view in the quotation?

  • Is the view expressed in the quotation justifiable or does the writer overstate or understate the position?

2. 'It cannot be acceptable for a non-elected, unrepresentative Upper House to frustrate the will of the elected House of Commons.' (Dr John Cunningham MP, HC Deb Vol. 190 col. 315, 1 May 1991)

Consider the functions of the House of Lords in the light of this quotation.

Matters to be discussed here might include:

  • What does the House of Lords do?

  • What is the relationship between the House of Lords and the House of Commons? How is the relationship regulated?

  • Is there anything in the nature of the two Houses and the relationship between them that would justify the assertion quoted? Does the speaker overstate the case by saying that it 'cannot be acceptable' for the House of Lords to frustrate the House of Commons? Are there circumstances when it might be justifiable? Are there examples where this has happened?

Chapter 5: The executive

Every Departmental minister is responsible to Parliament for the policy and administration of his department. This is a fundamental principle in our system of Parliamentary democracy. But it is an equally respectable and necessary principle that ministers as a whole are collectively responsible for government policy as a whole. This means that a Minister's personal responsibility must be exercised in harmony with the views of his ministerial colleagues.'  (Winston Churchill)

Explain and illustrate this statement.

Matters to be discussed here might include:

  • What do the terms collective responsibility and individual responsibility mean in the context of ministers?

  • How do they relate to each other?

  • Whether individual instances of ministerial misconduct support the statement or tend to contradict it.

  • Can any firm conclusions be drawn as to whether what Churchill says is correct as a generalization, or does it all depend on the particular circumstances?

Chapter 6: The judiciary

'Someone must be trusted. Let it be the judges.' (Lord Denning, 1980)

Discuss the constitutional position of the judiciary in the light of this quotation.

Matters to be discussed here might include:

  • Identification of the constitutional role of judges in theory and practice.

  • Why Lord Denning identifies trust as an important basis for constitutional roles.

  • Examples of judicial activity through decided cases.

  • Whether judges have the final word on legal/constitutional issues.

  • Whether Lord Denning is correct to assert that the judges should be trusted as opposed to anyone else such as the government or Parliament.

Chapter 7: The Human Rights Act 1998

With reference to relevant authority, explain how the Human Rights Act 1998 has incorporated the European Convention on Human Rights into English law.

This is a fairly straightforward bookwork question which tests knowledge of the Human Rights Act rather than requiring an evaluation of its effectiveness.
Matters to be discussed here might include:

  • The structure of the Human Rights Act.

  • Key concepts in the Act including the idea of a public authority and the duty under s.6.

  • The importance of ss.2, 3 and 4 for the activities of the courts.

  • The power in s.10.

  • The duty under s.19.

  • The requirement under s.19

Chapter 8: Individual freedom and police powers

The Greenside district of Midtown has been subject to a number of burglaries recently, with designer clothes and jewellery the main objects that have been stolen. One evening, PC Rook and PC Starling were on foot patrol when they saw two young men, dressed in scruffy clothes with hooded tops, each carrying smart and bulging bags. PC Rook said 'Hey you two! Stop there. We'd like a word with you.' One of the young men ran off and PC Rook set off in pursuit of him. On catching up with him, PC Rook grabbed him by the arm and said 'You're under arrest.' 'What for?' said the man, whose name was Crow. 'You know very well,' replied PC Rook, 'now open the bag and let's see what's inside it.' The man refused whereupon PC Rook took the bag, opened it, and looked inside. The bag contained expensive designer clothes. PC Rook took the man to the police station.

Meanwhile, PC Starling asked the other man, whose name was Finch, to tell her what was in the bag. 'Stuff,' he replied, 'and none of your business. I'm helping my friend to move house.' Not being satisfied with this explanation, PC Starling insisted on opening the bag, which was also full of designer clothes. PC Starling told the man that she was arresting him for theft and took him to the police station.  Officers were sent to Finch's house where they conducted a search for further stolen items. They conducted a thorough search looking in cupboards and drawers, moving furniture and pulling up floorboards. In the course of their search they found stolen designer clothes. They also found several packets of cocaine. They seized all these items and returned to the police station. Whilst waiting for Finch's solicitor to arrive, DS Hawk said to Finch 'Look, we know what you've been up to, so why not make things easy for both of us. You admit the theft and we'll forget about the drugs.' Finch signed a statement admitting theft.

Consider whether the police have acted lawfully in the situations described above.

This is a fairly typical problem-based question. The facts are set in a hypothetical place with imaginary characters to avoid any identification with particular people or places. This makes it easier to focus on the issue without being distracted by extraneous considerations. Using fictitious individuals, organizations, and locations also avoids any possible claims for libel! In such questions, it is assumed that all facts can be proved. All that is required, therefore, is to identify the relevant law and apply it to the facts. Note that the instruction requires consideration of the lawfulness of the police conduct – it does not require an evaluation of effectiveness in policing terms. Close reference to the relevant law will be needed in such questions in order to be able to apply it effectively. Scenarios such as this usually involve activities that are discussed in the cases or raise particular points of interpretation of statutory provisions. Such questions often involve a number of points which will not be capable of being developed as fully as in an essay-based question. Relevance is particularly important in questions such as this.

Matters to be discussed here might include:

  • Whether PCR is able to require someone to stop and if so on what grounds (s.1 Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PCEA), Code A).

  • Whether PCR has made a lawful arrest (s.24 PCEA).

  • Whether PCR is entitled to open the bag and examine its contents without the consent of the owner (s.32 PCEA).

  • Whether PCR is acting lawfully in taking C to the police station (s.30 PCEA).

  • Whether PCS is entitled to require F to open his bag (s.1 PCEA, Code A).

  • Whether PCS is entitled to open the bag in light of F's response to her question (s.1 PCEA, Code A).

  • Whether PCS has made a lawful arrest and is acting lawfully in taking F to the police station (ss. 24, 30, PCEA).

  • Whether the police are entitled to search F's premises and do so in the manner they have adopted (ss.18, 19, 32 PCEA).

  • Whether they are entitled to seize the items they take away (s.19 PCEA).

  • The effect of DSH's intervention on the admissibility of F's statement (s.76 PCEA).

  • In all of the above, reference to relevant legislation, principally the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (taking into account considerations under the Human Rights Act 1998 as appropriate), the Codes of Practice made under the 1984 Act and relevant case law will be needed.

Chapter 9: Freedom of expression and assembly and public order

The University of Suburbia Students' Union (USSU) organized a march and rally in Newtown to protest about inadequate funding for higher education. A route etc was agreed for the march in accordance with the Public Order Act 1986 (as amended) and permission obtained from the local authority for a rally at a local park. It was agreed that the USSU march should enter the park via Park Avenue.

When the march reached Park Avenue, however, the police ordered the march to turn off Park Avenue and take another route to the park, as a number of supporters of an organization called Cut Public Spending (CPS), which disapproved strongly of the use of public funds for higher education, had gathered at the Park Avenue entrance to the park. The police feared a clash between members of CPS and the USSU marchers and wanted to keep the two groups apart.  On seeing the USSU marchers, Ranter, the leader of CPS, yelled 'here come the scroungers!' This so incensed some of the USSU marchers that they pushed past the police officers who were barring their way into Park Avenue, and widespread fighting occurred between rival CPS and USSU supporters. Several USSU supporters sat down in Park Avenue and refused to move. Inspector Hardy ordered his officers to prevent anyone from entering Park Avenue until the police had brought the situation under control. The police also confiscated placards carried by CPS supporters bearing the slogan 'Student scum'.

Consider whether any offences have been committed on the above facts and comment also on the legality of the action taken by the police.

Matters to be discussed here might include:

  • Legality of police requiring march to divert from its route and application of s.12 Public Order Act 1986 (POA) or possible use of powers to prevent breaches of the peace.

  • Whether R commits an offence (ss.4, 4A or 5 POA).

  • Whether USSU people commit offence in pushing past police officers (s.89 Police Act 1996).

  • Whether USSU and CPS people commit an offence by fighting (ss.1,2,3 POA).

  • Whether USSU people commit offence by sitting down in road (s.137 Highways Act 1980).

  • Whether police act lawfully in preventing people from entering Park Avenue (s.14 POA, powers to prevent breach of the peace).

  • Whether placards constitute an offence (s.5 POA).

  • In all of the above, reference to relevant legislation, principally the Public Order Act 1986 (taking into account considerations under the Human Rights Act 1998 as appropriate) and relevant case law will be needed.

Chapter 10: Administrative law: an introduction

How far do the existence of tribunals and the ombudsman expose the limitations of judicial review?

Matters to be discussed here might include:

  • Whether there are any significant limitations on judicial review and if so what they might be.

  • What tribunals do and how this differs from judicial review.

  • What the ombudsman does and how this differs from judicial review.

  • Whether the existence of tribunals and the ombudsman actually indicate that there are limitations on judicial review.

  • Reference to relevant statutes, cases, and secondary literature will be needed to support the argument.

Chapter 11: Judicial review: procedure

Under the imaginary Football Grounds (Relocation) Act 2009, decisions by football clubs to relocate are subject to approval by the local authority. Northtown Council has recently established a panel, comprising local residents and representatives from local businesses, to exercise this function on their behalf.

Northtown United FC currently has a ground in the Westside district of Northtown. It has recently decided to build a new ground 2 miles away from the present ground in the Eastside district of the town. This proposal was very controversial, as it also incorporated a retail outlet and local residents in the new location were apprehensive about the impact the new ground would have on what is, by common consent, a quiet part of the town. Some supporters of Northtown United FC were unhappy about the prospect of the club leaving its present, and, as they see it, traditional location. The panel decided to allow Northtown United to relocate to their preferred site on the basis of their proposals, including the retail outlet. The chairman of the panel also entered into contracts with Northtown United for the employment of consultants to advise on the detailed specification for the ground.

The following wish to bring a claim against the panel with a view to overturning its decision:

  • Alice, a resident in the Eastside district, who is concerned that the relocation will have an adverse impact on her wellbeing.

  • The Keep Northtown Out of Eastside group, a group of football supporters who have come together for the specific purpose of keeping Northtown United's ground in Westside.

  • The Northtown Chamber of Commerce whose members are concerned about the impact the proposed development would have on their businesses if the retail outlet is incorporated into the proposals.

Advise them as to whether they will be able to bring a claim for judicial review against the panel, highlighting any procedural issues that may be disclosed by the above facts.

The use of fictitious legislation is a common device in this area. It enables discussion to focus on the principles rather than being diverted into issues relating to the detail of the operation of specific pieces of legislation. The scope of the discussion can thus be more controlled than if a piece of real legislation was to be used. Further, it means that everyone attempting the question is on an equal footing and does not privilege those who have knowledge of the particular piece of legislation nor does it disadvantage those who lack that specialist knowledge.

Matters to be discussed here might include:

  • Whether the facts disclose a situation that is suitable for judicial review.

  • Whether a claim for judicial review can be brought against the panel or whether it should be brought against Northtown Council.

  • Whether a claim for judicial review can be brought against the panel in respect of the contracts it has entered into.

  • Whether each of the three potential claimants has sufficient interest in order to be able to bring a claim.

  • What other procedural requirements need to be observed (e.g. time limits, seeking permission etc).

  • Reference to relevant  legal rules and cases to support the argument will be needed.

Chapter 12: Judicial review: grounds

The (fictitious) Bingo (Licensing) Act provides that those running bingo clubs must obtain a licence, renewable annually, from the local authority. The Act provides that where a licence is refused, an appeal against that decision may be made to the Bingo (Licensing) Panel. The local authority is also allowed to make an annual charge for a licence to cover its administrative costs. Southshire County Council has recently announced that it intended to raise the annual fee to reflect the profits bingo clubs were making.

Serena, who had been granted a licence on five previous occasions, applied for renewal of her licence.  Southshire County Council refused to grant her a licence on this occasion, despite the fact that there had been no material change in her circumstances. She appealed, and a date was fixed for a hearing before the Bingo (Licensing) Panel.

At the hearing, one member of the panel missed part of the proceedings while he answered a telephone call. At one point, Serena was asked to 'wait outside while we discuss one or two matters with the representative of the licensing authority'. When Serena was called back in she was not told anything about the discussions that had taken place in her absence.

The Panel upheld the refusal to grant a licence to Serena. Serena subsequently discovered that the solicitor chairing the panel belonged to a firm that acted as legal advisers to a rival bingo club.

Advise Serena as to any grounds on which she can challenge the decisions made by Southshire County Council and the Bingo (Licensing) Panel.

Matters to be discussed here might include:

  • Whether the annual licence fee is lawful, bearing in mind the reasons given for the increase.

  • Whether the initial refusal of S's licence raises any legal issues (legitimate expectation, reasons etc).

  • Various aspects of the hearing raise questions as to whether it is fasir: panel member missing part of proceedings, S's exclusion while matters discussed with other side in her absence

  • Chair to panel: possible bias should be considered.

  • All of the above should be discussed with reference to relevant case law.

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