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terminology/help me understand this judge

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    What is meant by "question of fact', "made no error of law" and "maintaining himself"?

    I came across this in a textbook I am reading and did not fully understand it.The full paragraph is as follows:

    "In R v West Dorset District Council ex parte Poupard (1987) 19 HLR 254 , Mr. and Mrs Poupard had capital assets, but they were meeting their weekly living expenses by drawing on an overdrawn bank account. They applied to the council for housing benefit. This benefit was subject to a means test, and therefore the question arose as to whether the drawings were "income". If they were, the amounts involved were sufficient to disqualify the applicants from receiving assistance under the relevant Regulations. The council's Housing Review Board concluded that the drawings were income.

    The High Court held that in each case it was a question of fact whether specific sums of money were "income", and that this question was to be decided on the basis of all that the council and their Review Board knew of the sources from which an applicant for benefit was maintaining himself and paying his bills. The conclusion was that on the present facts the local authority and their Review Board had made no error of law, and had acted reasonably in reaching their decision."

    Thanks if anyone can help
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    (Original post by Saul Goodman)
    What is meant by "question of fact', "made no error of law" and "maintaining himself"?

    I came across this in a textbook I am reading and did not fully understand it.The full paragraph is as follows:

    "In R v West Dorset District Council ex parte Poupard (1987) 19 HLR 254 , Mr. and Mrs Poupard had capital assets, but they were meeting their weekly living expenses by drawing on an overdrawn bank account. They applied to the council for housing benefit. This benefit was subject to a means test, and therefore the question arose as to whether the drawings were "income". If they were, the amounts involved were sufficient to disqualify the applicants from receiving assistance under the relevant Regulations. The council's Housing Review Board concluded that the drawings were income.

    The High Court held that in each case it was a question of fact whether specific sums of money were "income", and that this question was to be decided on the basis of all that the council and their Review Board knew of the sources from which an applicant for benefit was maintaining himself and paying his bills. The conclusion was that on the present facts the local authority and their Review Board had made no error of law, and had acted reasonably in reaching their decision."

    Thanks if anyone can help
    There are two types of questions that arise in courts - question of law and question of fact. If something is a question of law, the court is bound to give it the meaning on the basis of precedents and according to law. If, for example, the Supreme Court holds overdraft to be an income, then in the future all the courts will be bound to treat overdraft as an income - and they cannot vary the meaning of overdraft in different cases.

    If something is a question of fact, such as the case we have, the court is free to look at all circumstances and make the decision based on all the surrounding circumstances - so that essentially the court is free to hold overdraft to be income in one case and not an income in another. In our case, it seems the test for income was "maintenance and paying bills", so the court can apply this set to the set of facts of each claimant and conclude whether the overdraft is an income or not.

    To bring another example, intent in criminal law is a question of fact - there is no precedent that the court must follow - all that needs to be done is to see whether the defendand had intended his acts or not in each case. So what we get here is that in two cases with very similar facts, the court (or the jury) may hold that in one case the defendand had intent and in the other he had not. But contrast this to duty of care in tort - where, for example, if the court holds that a manufacturer owes a duty of care to the consumer - this is a question of law, the court cannot say one manufacturer does and the other doesn't.

    Generally, but not neccessarily, you can distinguish whether something is a question of law or fact in the following way: if a statute or a binding precedent sets out an exhaustive list that "income is overdraft, wages, pensions FULL STOP" - than the court cannot say that income from shareholdings is an income - this is a question of law. But if the law, whether by statute or by case law, says that "income is any finance that is used for maintenance and to pay bills" - than the court is absolutely free to consider virtually any finance as an income if the finance meets the test - this is a question of fact, thus overdraft in one family will not be an income, but in others it will.

    Does this make sense?

    And for the last part, the authority was being challenged in the court for holding overdraft an income. The court summarised that income is a question of fact, as such, overdraft may always be considered an income or not an income based on the circumstances of the case, which is what the authority did, so the authority did not make any error of law - it acted by law. The authority's actions would be illegal (and they would have made an error of law) if the authority held overdraft was an income, in case where overdraft being an income was a question of law and had been, in the past, held as not being an income.

    Does this help?
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    So is this a matter of fact and not law because this is the first case of its kind? As in, there is no precedent for this case/the supreme court has not dealt with something like this before? Meaning, if there is to be a similar case to this in the future that's come to the attention of the court of appeal for instance, a judge can then say "matter of law not fact"...am i correct?

    So question of fact is basically an "is it" or "is it not" question.. lol

    how does the question of fact thing work though? Because the judge got to decide that it qualifies as maintenance.. so his reasoning was something like:

    income = how one maintains oneself = overdrawn funds

    therefore income = overdrawn funds

    okay.. I probably need to read the case in full to know more lol.. sorry, this is the first case I've stumbled across (while I was doing introductory reading)

    what does "acted reasonably" mean? Because I thought there is no way a judge/court could (be allowed to) make an error of law.. is it just a defensive statement lol.

    With regards to your shareholding example.. one can't maintain themselves through a shareholding though can they? Only after one sells it... then it ceases to be a shareholding and becomes income doesn't it? Because shareholding is an investment..

    So why doesn't the law state the criteria comprehensively? Are the parliament and courts just too lazy to be pedantic or do so purposefully, to allow some leeway? Is this the issue of legal language or is it to do with a common law legal tradition with regards to being free for interpretation?

    So basically the decision depends on the judge's personal sympathies or internal assessment method?

    I'm surmising that what's meant by circumstances in your example is the fact that the courts judged the family to be well off enough? that is, through ownership of a capital asset/their general living standards?

    apologies in advance for sounding like a noob >.< Thanks very much for replying btw!
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    Not everything utter by a judge will make sense, this is clearly one of them.
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    (Original post by Saul Goodman)
    What is meant by "question of fact', "made no error of law" and "maintaining himself"?

    I came across this in a textbook I am reading and did not fully understand it.The full paragraph is as follows:

    "In R v West Dorset District Council ex parte Poupard (1987) 19 HLR 254 , Mr. and Mrs Poupard had capital assets, but they were meeting their weekly living expenses by drawing on an overdrawn bank account. They applied to the council for housing benefit. This benefit was subject to a means test, and therefore the question arose as to whether the drawings were "income". If they were, the amounts involved were sufficient to disqualify the applicants from receiving assistance under the relevant Regulations. The council's Housing Review Board concluded that the drawings were income.

    The High Court held that in each case it was a question of fact whether specific sums of money were "income", and that this question was to be decided on the basis of all that the council and their Review Board knew of the sources from which an applicant for benefit was maintaining himself and paying his bills. The conclusion was that on the present facts the local authority and their Review Board had made no error of law, and had acted reasonably in reaching their decision."

    Thanks if anyone can help
    In terms of the matter of fact/law distinction, a couple of examples might be helpful. 'A question of fact' means the same as 'a matter of fact', and judges are utterly equivocal about which they use.

    Take the proposition 'children cannot consent to sex as a matter of law'. This means that the fact that children cannot consent to sex is not fact-sensitive. It doesn't matter how mature a given child is, or whether s/he was entirely aware of what s/he was doing and did it willingly, engaging in sexual relations with a minor will be viewed as molestation and/or rape because a child is not able to give consent as a matter of law. You need only establish that the defendant engaged in sexual relations with the child to convict him or her of rape. (It should be noted that this final step - one of ascertaining whether sex took place - is a matter of fact, not a matter of law.)

    The story is different if we are considering whether someone over the age of consent has been raped or not. In these kinds of trial, we need consider not only whether the defendant engaged in sexual relations with the would-be victim, but also whether there was freely-given consent. In common with the child case above, whether or not sexual activities took place is a matter of fact, but by contrast the question of whether consent was given is also a matter of fact here, not law. This is because, as a matter of law, adults can give consent, so we need to look at what actually happened in order to find out whether consent was given or not.

    A matter of law, in essence, is a question which can be answered without referring to any facts of the case. The answer may arise from statute or precedent. I think it is easiest to understand what is meant by 'matter of fact' when it is contrasted with 'matter of law'.

    An 'error of law' is simply getting the law wrong. 'Maintaining himself' has no special legal meaning. It just means 'looking after himself'.
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    The council's Housing Review Board concluded that the drawings were income. The conclusion was that on the present facts the local authority and their Review Board had made no error of law, and had acted reasonably in reaching their decision."

    In this case, ther judge has to tell why as a matter of law, the Housing Review Board conclusion that the drawings were income before he can conclude that the Review Board had made no error in law. That is all you should be interested in.
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    (Original post by Saul Goodman)
    So is this a matter of fact and not law because this is the first case of its kind? As in, there is no precedent for this case/the supreme court has not dealt with something like this before? Meaning, if there is to be a similar case to this in the future that's come to the attention of the court of appeal for instance, a judge can then say "matter of law not fact"...am i correct?

    So question of fact is basically an "is it" or "is it not" question.. lol

    how does the question of fact thing work though? Because the judge got to decide that it qualifies as maintenance.. so his reasoning was something like:

    income = how one maintains oneself = overdrawn funds

    therefore income = overdrawn funds

    okay.. I probably need to read the case in full to know more lol.. sorry, this is the first case I've stumbled across (while I was doing introductory reading)

    what does "acted reasonably" mean? Because I thought there is no way a judge/court could (be allowed to) make an error of law.. is it just a defensive statement lol.

    With regards to your shareholding example.. one can't maintain themselves through a shareholding though can they? Only after one sells it... then it ceases to be a shareholding and becomes income doesn't it? Because shareholding is an investment..

    So why doesn't the law state the criteria comprehensively? Are the parliament and courts just too lazy to be pedantic or do so purposefully, to allow some leeway? Is this the issue of legal language or is it to do with a common law legal tradition with regards to being free for interpretation?

    So basically the decision depends on the judge's personal sympathies or internal assessment method?

    I'm surmising that what's meant by circumstances in your example is the fact that the courts judged the family to be well off enough? that is, through ownership of a capital asset/their general living standards?

    apologies in advance for sounding like a noob >.< Thanks very much for replying btw!
    "So is this a matter of fact and not law because this is the first case of its kind? As in, there is no precedent for this case/the supreme court has not dealt with something like this before? Meaning, if there is to be a similar case to this in the future that's come to the attention of the court of appeal for instance, a judge can then say "matter of law not fact"...am i correct?"

    No, that's not the way to distinguish between questions of fact and law. When you read the textbooks, for every element the textbook will say whether the element is a question of fact or a question of law, so you personally need not worry about why something is a question of law or fact.

    If you want to know out of curiosity about why these two questions of law and fact exist, I will try to answer your question in the following way, this is the way I see it. Some elements are questions of fact. For example, intent. As I've explained, ALL that the court needs to do is find out whether the defendand intended his act or not - very straightforward, intent has its own meaning and definition, there is no "legal" definition to intent - so, you're right when you mention the "is / is not" test - the defendant either intended or did not indend his act. Simple. But for theft, for example, one element of the offence is property, so the defendant must have appropriated property belonging to another. What is property is a question of law (and your "is / is not" test must be found in law rather than fact), because property has a legal meaning or definition found in the law of property e.g. choses in action, animals, human body parts etc. Property law has a wide range of laws and rules which describe what is property and what isn't. So, the court needs to go further in law and see whether what the defendant has stolen is a property or not. So the court goes into law, hence this is a question of law. Do you see what I mean?

    "how does the question of fact thing work though? Because the judge got to decide that it qualifies as maintenance.. so his reasoning was something like:

    income = how one maintains oneself = overdrawn funds

    therefore income = overdrawn funds
    "

    In this specific case, the test for income was any finance used for maintenance and to pay bills. As such, the law offers flexibility to the court to hold any finance which meets the test as an income. So, in every case, the court must ask itself - is the finance e.g. overdraft used for maintenance or to pay bills? It either is or it isn't. If it is, then overdraft will be held as an income, otherwise it won't.

    "what does "acted reasonably" mean? Because I thought there is no way a judge/court could (be allowed to) make an error of law.. is it just a defensive statement lol."

    The authority was given power to decide whether a finance is an income or not, but, as you know, every decision of authorities may be challenged in courts who have the final say - in this case the court accepted that the authority acted reasonably in holding the overdraft as an income, the court agreed with the authority, as such the authority was not held liable.

    "With regards to your shareholding example.. one can't maintain themselves through a shareholding though can they? Only after one sells it... then it ceases to be a shareholding and becomes income doesn't it? Because shareholding is an investment.. "

    Shareholders are given dividends by the companies, that's what I meant by income. But, similarly, many people do business by buying and selling shares, so they earn money from there, as such, if the question about income is a question of fact, as I've said, virtually any finance can be held to be an income.

    "So why doesn't the law state the criteria comprehensively? Are the parliament and courts just too lazy to be pedantic or do so purposefully, to allow some leeway? Is this the issue of legal language or is it to do with a common law legal tradition with regards to being free for interpretation?

    So basically the decision depends on the judge's personal sympathies or internal assessment method?
    "

    The law does not state the criteria comprehensively because in many circumstances the flexibility of the law offers a greater justice. If the law states a comprehensive list of all finances being an income, some people will be able to use the gap in the law and the finance not mentioned in the law to do things which the State didn't want them to - but if you offer flexibility to the courts, no person would be able to get away. And whether questions of fact depend on judge's personal sympathies is arguable, everyone see it in their own way, I personally think judges in the UK are great and leaving them with wide discretionary powers almost always result in just results - but this is just my opinion, you are of course free to disagree and favour the "exhaustive list" approach.

    I didn't understand your last paragraph.

    P.S. Thanks for giving negative feedback after spending so much effort trying to help. Maybe I should become like others, always look to do harm rather than good.
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    (Original post by vahik92)
    "So is this a matter of fact and not law because this is the first case of its kind? As in, there is no precedent for this case/the supreme court has not dealt with something like this before? Meaning, if there is to be a similar case to this in the future that's come to the attention of the court of appeal for instance, a judge can then say "matter of law not fact"...am i correct?"

    No, that's not the way to distinguish between questions of fact and law. When you read the textbooks, for every element the textbook will say whether the element is a question of fact or a question of law, so you personally need not worry about why something is a question of law or fact.

    If you want to know out of curiosity about why these two questions of law and fact exist, I will try to answer your question in the following way, this is the way I see it. Some elements are questions of fact. For example, intent. As I've explained, ALL that the court needs to do is find out whether the defendand intended his act or not - very straightforward, intent has its own meaning and definition, there is no "legal" definition to intent - so, you're right when you mention the "is / is not" test - the defendant either intended or did not indend his act. Simple. But for theft, for example, one element of the offence is property, so the defendant must have appropriated property belonging to another. What is property is a question of law (and your "is / is not" test must be found in law rather than fact), because property has a legal meaning or definition found in the law of property e.g. choses in action, animals, human body parts etc. Property law has a wide range of laws and rules which describe what is property and what isn't. So, the court needs to go further in law and see whether what the defendant has stolen is a property or not. So the court goes into law, hence this is a question of law. Do you see what I mean?

    "how does the question of fact thing work though? Because the judge got to decide that it qualifies as maintenance.. so his reasoning was something like:

    income = how one maintains oneself = overdrawn funds

    therefore income = overdrawn funds
    "

    In this specific case, the test for income was any finance used for maintenance and to pay bills. As such, the law offers flexibility to the court to hold any finance which meets the test as an income. So, in every case, the court must ask itself - is the finance e.g. overdraft used for maintenance or to pay bills? It either is or it isn't. If it is, then overdraft will be held as an income, otherwise it won't.

    "what does "acted reasonably" mean? Because I thought there is no way a judge/court could (be allowed to) make an error of law.. is it just a defensive statement lol."

    The authority was given power to decide whether a finance is an income or not, but, as you know, every decision of authorities may be challenged in courts who have the final say - in this case the court accepted that the authority acted reasonably in holding the overdraft as an income, the court agreed with the authority, as such the authority was not held liable.

    "With regards to your shareholding example.. one can't maintain themselves through a shareholding though can they? Only after one sells it... then it ceases to be a shareholding and becomes income doesn't it? Because shareholding is an investment.. "

    Shareholders are given dividends by the companies, that's what I meant by income. But, similarly, many people do business by buying and selling shares, so they earn money from there, as such, if the question about income is a question of fact, as I've said, virtually any finance can be held to be an income.

    "So why doesn't the law state the criteria comprehensively? Are the parliament and courts just too lazy to be pedantic or do so purposefully, to allow some leeway? Is this the issue of legal language or is it to do with a common law legal tradition with regards to being free for interpretation?

    So basically the decision depends on the judge's personal sympathies or internal assessment method?
    "

    The law does not state the criteria comprehensively because in many circumstances the flexibility of the law offers a greater justice. If the law states a comprehensive list of all finances being an income, some people will be able to use the gap in the law and the finance not mentioned in the law to do things which the State didn't want them to - but if you offer flexibility to the courts, no person would be able to get away. And whether questions of fact depend on judge's personal sympathies is arguable, everyone see it in their own way, I personally think judges in the UK are great and leaving them with wide discretionary powers almost always result in just results - but this is just my opinion, you are of course free to disagree and favour the "exhaustive list" approach.

    I didn't understand your last paragraph.

    P.S. Thanks for giving negative feedback after spending so much effort trying to help. Maybe I should become like others, always look to do harm rather than good.
    hi vahik, it wasn't me who gave the negative feedback, I've only just logged back on after a couple of days. I'm quite new to the site and thought that negative feedback givers would be visible. I guess not then, but I swear it's not me.
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    (Original post by Saul Goodman)
    hi vahik, it wasn't me who gave the negative feedback, I've only just logged back on after a couple of days. I'm quite new to the site and thought that negative feedback givers would be visible. I guess not then, but I swear it's not me.
    I was not referring to you, but the ***hole who has left the feedback

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