Spotting Issues

One of the keys to successfully answering hypothetical problems is being able to find the issues (often called ‘issue-spotting’). This means reading the hypothetical scenario and identifying the legal issues that are raised by the facts.

You can think of these issues as questions that will affect your client’s legal situation. For example, ‘Was Mara’s behaviour on the tram an offence under the Transport Regulations?’ is an issue. We know it’s an issue because the question requires us to examine the facts of the hypothetical scenario (Mara’s behaviour on the tram) in order to determine her legal situation (whether she has committed an offence under the Regulations).

💡Did you know? Hypothetical problems will almost always give you more facts than you need. While you should take note of all the details in the scenario that could be relevant to your client, an important part of issue-spotting is being able to separate the significant facts from those that are peripheral or irrelevant.

Have a go!

Below is a hypothetical scenario (using fictional law) that will help you practice your issue-spotting skills. Read the whole hypothetical problem, then see if you can get 100% on the quiz at the end!

Beverly ‘Bev’ Katz works as a research scientist at a laboratory in Melbourne. Her true passion, however, is for the theatre. Several times a year she appears in amateur productions of famous plays, including Othello, Waiting for Godot, and Friends for Dinner. While she doesn’t hate her day job, she often wonders what it would be like to quit and become a full time actor instead.

One Friday night after a difficult week at work, she visits the electronics store Quantum Quantico, which is advertising a brand new gizmo called the Vacuum Toastie Insect Zapper (or ‘V-TIZ’ for short). According to its box, this incredible new all-in-one product can vacuum the floor, make grilled sandwiches, and deploy laser technology to zap insects inside any dwelling. Although it costs three times her monthly salary, Bev decides to treat herself by buying a V-TIZ. ‘Besides,’ she rationalises, ‘if I don’t like it, I can just return it for a refund!’

When Bev gets the V-TIZ home, she starts reading its instruction manual. To her surprise, though, the manual is written entirely in Finnish. Luckily, Bev studied Finnish in high school, and she remembers enough to get the gist of the instructions.

Bev also finds a separate sheet of paper written in English. It contains the following text:

V-TIZ Operating Guidelines

Please always follow these Guidelines when you operate your V-TIZ.

  1. Always leave the V-TIZ in its charge cradle between 2am and 5am local time.
  2. The V-TIZ can only zap insects with its laser. Do not permit the V-TIZ to zap anything that is not an insect.
  3. If you are making a toasted sandwich (‘toastie’) inside the V-TIZ, do not use any very spicy ingredients.

Thank you and we hope you enjoy our product!

That weekend, Bev’s amateur theatre buddies Brian and Jimmy come over for a visit. Jimmy is excited by the V-TIZ and decides to test out its toastie-making function. He uses the machine to grill three sandwiches containing cheese, pickled beetroot, chillies, and salmon. It doesn’t taste very good, but the friends are committed to sustainable food practices and decide to finish their sandwiches anyway.

For the rest of the afternoon they practice their lines for the upcoming production of The Tattler of Wolf Trap. The script is heavy and hard to hold, so eventually Bev rests the script on top of the V-TIZ. Although she doesn’t tell Brian and Jimmy this, Bev is increasingly concerned that she won’t be able to memorise her lines in time for the play’s opening night.

That night, Bev jolts awake in bed. According to her bedside clock radio, the time is 3.53am. Although she’s not sure what woke her up, she suddenly notices an enormous grey spider creeping its way along the wall above her bed. Thank goodness one of the functions of the V-TIZ is to zap insects! She gets out of bed, only to discover that the machine is not in its charge cradle. After a lengthy search, she finds the V-TIZ underneath a sofa cushion. She uses the machine’s remote control to guide it into her bedroom, zapping the spider with its laser. With that taken care of, Bev sleeps better than she has in weeks. It’s a relief: she was beginning to think that her intermittent insomnia was causing her to make silly mistakes in her daily life.

The next morning, Bev tries to use the V-TIZ to make a breakfast sandwich. The machine, however, emits a strange noise and, three seconds later, it bursts into flames. Bev has a fire extinguisher handy and quickly puts the fire out, but it’s too late! The flames have turned the V-TIZ into a useless pile of half-melted wires and wheels.

Bev is distraught. She can’t believe she spent that much money on a hunk of junk that breaks so easily! She takes the broken V-TIZ back to the store she bought it from and demands a full refund. The store clerk informs Bev that, under the New and Snazzy Gizmo Act 1999 (Vic) s 42, she will only be eligible for a refund if she:

a) Read the entire instruction manual; and

b) Followed all of the manufacturer’s Operating Guidelines.

Bev comes to you seeking advice on whether she is eligible to receive a refund for the V-TIZ. Advise Bev.

Did you spot the right issues? Take this quiz to find out! If you’re struggling, click the i (information) button next to each answer to receive a clue.


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