Law and change: Scottish legal heroes
Law and change: Scottish legal heroes

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

Free course

Law and change: Scottish legal heroes

2 A brief introduction to legal reasoning

Good legal reasoning requires logical argument. One form of logical argument is syllogism. In syllogistic reasoning, one proposition is deduced from two or more others. The proposition that is deduced is the conclusion and the statements from which it is inferred, or derived, are called premises.

Figure 4 Thinking about legal reasoning

In legal arguments, the first premise (sometimes known as the major premise) is generally a statement of law. In order to find the major premise, you need to look in the judgment for abstract statements of legal rules. You then need to uncover the minor premises. These are statements of facts which the judge considers relevant to the conclusion drawn. The judge’s conclusion draws together the general statement of law with the statement of fact and, therefore, explains how the general rule applies to the particular facts. This is known as applying the law to the facts and is an essential part of legal reasoning. The steps in legal reasoning can be broken down as in Figure 5.

Described image
Figure 5 Simple steps in legal reasoning

Activity 1 Syllogistic reasoning

Timing: (Allow about 5 minutes)

Using the information you have been given on syllogistic reasoning, consider the following statements. Organise the statements using syllogistic reasoning.

Active content not displayed. This content requires JavaScript to be enabled.
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).

Comment

The correct syllogism is:

Premise 1 – All cats are mammals.

Premise 2 – All mammals are animals.

Premise 3 – All cats are animals.

It is certainly true that some mammals can fly but there are no flying cats. The fact that cats are mammals and that some mammals can fly does not prove that cats are capable of flying. The premises can be true but the conclusion is false, it is not a syllogism.

It is worth noting here, however, that in reality identifying reasoning and legal principles is not always straightforward, as judges often do not specifically state on which legal principle they are relying. In addition, if there is more than one judge in a case, for example because it is a case being heard on appeal, then the judges may all reach the same conclusion but express the legal principle in slightly different ways. To consider how legal reasoning works in practice, Section 3 considers the judgments in Donoghue and explores the reasoning used.

WXM151_4

Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to University-level study, we offer two introductory routes to our qualifications. You could either choose to start with an Access module, or a module which allows you to count your previous learning towards an Open University qualification. Read our guide on Where to take your learning next for more information.

Not ready for formal University study? Then browse over 1000 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus371