Clear Cases

University of Toronto Law Journal 31:231-248 (1981)
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Theorists of the legal process in common law countries have, in recent years, been preoccupied with hard cases. A hard case occurs where a legal rule or legal rules cannot determine a uniquely correct result when applied to given facts. This paper examines what theorists and law practitioners alike have believed to be a very different kind of case: the clear case. Practising lawyers assure us that clear cases occupy a large percentage of their case load. Professional law teachers design teaching materials and often conduct themselves in the classroom with apparent assurance that most cases in the 'real world' of a law practice are clear cases. The lawyer is presented with material facts and rules which are rid of the difficulties giving rise to hard cases. The facts have been ascertained and proved. The lawyer has been able to sort out the material from the immaterial facts with a much-envied ability to determine the criteria of materiality. He has also discovered the rules and somehow has rejected some and accepted others as legally relevant. The lawyer need only deduce a conclusion by applying the relevant rule to the material facts. Choice, uncertainty, or human frailty enter the picture only when the lawyer makes that final deduction. Consequently, clear cases are supposed to be relatively easy. This Paper questions whether there is more to the competent lawyer's job in clear cases than carrying on the deductive process of applying the relevant rule to the material facts. The primary objective of this essay is to make an argument concerning the issue as to whether there is more to the competent lawyer's job in clear cases than carrying on the deductive process of applying the relevant rule to the material facts. My argument hinges upon what constitutes a properly decided judicial decision. And this, in turn, depends upon the differing conceptions about justice which underlie the activities of courts and legislatures in a democratic state. The Paper then connects those differing conceptions to such concepts as formal justice, substantive justice, liberty, guidance to lawyers, and accountability in the context of clear cases.



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William Conklin
University of Windsor

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