In our experience, you might get four types of questions in an interview (although always expect the unexpected in a Cambridge interview!)
General questions about your motivations
- Why do you want to study law?
- What areas of law are you most interested in?
- What books related to law have you read?
- Can you tell me about an interesting news or magazine article you read that concerns the law and what your thoughts on it are?
- Why do you want to study at Cambridge / Oxford?
General legal questions
- Is it possible to have a civilised society without law?
- Are countries ever justified in using force in breach of international law?
- What sorts of rights should children have?
- A pays B $10,000 by mistake. Should B be obligated to pay A back and why?
- Is it unfair that the rich get taxed proportionately more than the poor?
- Should a sentence be reduced simply because the offender expresses genuine remorse for his crime?
- Should newspapers be allowed to report on celebrities’ private lives? What if any matters should be ‘off limits’?
- Should pre-nupital agreements about the distribution of the couple’s assets on divorce be binding?
- Is international law really ‘law’?
- Can war ever be just?
- What legal responsibilities should social media platforms have over their users’ speech?
- Is the state justified in imposing a law mandating seatbelts in respect of a person who is fully aware of the increased risk of death but views the inconvenience of wearing a seatbelt as outweighing that?
- Is forcing a child to go to school a violation of the right to liberty? What about detention? What about school uniform?
- Should we ever be liable for the unintended consequences of our actions?
- Do plants or trees have rights?
- Is it accurate to describe the law as a system of rules backed by punishments for breaking them?
- Are jury trials fair? Should all criminal trials be decided by an experienced judge instead of a jury?
- Should patents for vaccines be suspended in light of the Covid-19 crisis?
Scenario based legal questions
You might get asked about different scenarios and to think about how certain rules or principles might apply to them.
Should John be liable for murder in the following situations?
(a) John sets out to kill Gary and poisons his bottle of water. Before taking a sip of his water, Gary smells there is something off with the water and so decides to drink from the nearest water fountain. Unbeknownst to John and Gary, the water fountain is contaminated with a lethal toxin. Gary dies.
(b) John hates Olivia and wishes she were dead. One day, John accidentally bumps into Olivia, who falls and cracks her head. John then watches as she bleeds out and dies without calling an ambulance or helping her.
(c) John and Patel go hunting. They see Barnaby, who they both have an intense hatred for. At exactly the same time, Patel and John shoot at Barnaby, intending to kill him. One of the bullets strike Barnaby’s heart while the other one simply strikes Barnaby’s arm. Medical experts cannot tell whose bullet came from whose gun.
What obligations should Gavin be under (if any) in the following situations, and why?
(a) Jane pays Gavin $500 at a dinner, thinking he had previously loaned her $500 when in fact this had never happened.
(b) Does it make a difference if Gavin thought Jane was in fact giving him $500 as a birthday gift?
(c) Does it make a difference if Gavin mistakenly thought Jane owed him $500?
(d) Does it make a difference if Gavin already spent the $500?
(e) Does it make a difference if Jane would have given Gavin $500 at the dinner anyway, since she knew Gavin was short on cash and would have wanted to help him out?
Article, judgement or passage-based question
Example 1: compensation for wrongful conviction
Read this article from the Guardian that discusses compensation for wrongly convicted post officer workers. Then consider the following questions:
- Should compensation be available for individuals who have mistakenly been convicted by the state?
- If so, should all individuals who have been mistakenly compensated be compensated or only some? If only some, who should and who shouldn’t?
- If so, who should be the one compensating? The state, or someone else?
- If the state should be the one compensating, what do you think of the argument that the compensation essentially comes out of taxpayers’ money and uses up valuable public funds?
- If compensation were to be awarded, what types of harm should be compensated?
- Do you think it is impossible to equate an injustice as grave as being deprived of years of your liberty in jail into financial terms? If so, why should we still award compensation?
Example 2: contact between children living in an ultra-orthodox Jewish community and transgender father
Read only paragraphs 1 – 83 of this judgment from the English Court of Appeal in Re M. Then, consider the following questions:
- Can you briefly explain what are the differences between the judgment of Peter Jackson J (in the High Court) and the Court of Appeal?
- Whose reasoning do you agree with more and why?
- What was the key principle or test that both the Court of Appeal and High Court used to determine whether they should order contact between the children and the father?
- Why did the Court of Appeal and the High Court arrive at different outcomes despite using the same test?
- Do you think the test they used was satisfactory?
- Do you think the Court of Appeal’s judgment is insufficiently sensitive to religious freedoms and beliefs? Do you see it as imposing a certain worldview onto the ultra-orthodox Jewish community?
- Despite the fact that the Court of Appeal had a very clear view on the matter, why do you think that the Court of Appeal not just decide the matter but instead remit it back for a further hearing in the High Court (paragraph 82).
- What do you think of the Court adopting the perspective of the “judicial reasonable parent” (paragraph 60)? Is this an imposition of the Court’s own liberal worldview, which many people might not share?
Example 3: criminal convictions resulting in a bar from fostering children
Read this New York Times article, which discusses how great-grandparents were barred as foster parents due to the criminal conviction of one of them several decades ago.
Have a think about the following issues and points of interest:
- What fundamental rights of the great-grandparents might be involved here?
- What fundamental rights of the child might be at stake here?
- How might New York state respond to the great-grandparents’ fundamental rights arguments – i.e. what justifications might they use for limiting their fundamental rights?
- Many might think the New York’s policy for foster parents is incorrect or wrong. Do you a governmeng policy or law should be quashed in the courts simply on the basis that it is incorrect? Why or why not? If not, what grounds do you think would be sufficient reason for the courts to strike down a state’s policy or law?
- Is the legal system too harsh against former criminals?
Example 4: Cop25 climate change summit
Read this Guardian article, then answer the following questions:
- How much is international law – climate change agreements included – actually ‘law’, or are they just statements of political intention by different countries?
- What do you think about the issue raised by the article concerning ‘compensation’ for developing nations as a result of the environmental destruction that developed nations have helped contribute to?
- We think of law as fair, but there fairness in international law when international agreements are often outcome of political bargaining by countries with often unequal power?
- Can international law be effective to reduce climate change (or other international objectives) when nations will often act in self interested ways? Take the example of India changing the wording from ‘phasing out’ to ‘phasing down’ coal.
- What do you think of India’s justification that climate change must give way to the economic reality of developing nations? How do we strike a balance between environmental objectives and differences in growth patterns of different nations?
Example 5: Compensation for forcibly separating migrant families
Check out this Washington Post opinion article on how US courts and juries are now awarding compensation for migrant families who have been forcibly separated from their children as a result of previous Trump administration policy. Have a think about these questions as you read the article:
- Do you think monetary compensation can ever compensate an individual for emotional loss?
- If not, what types of redress should courts be awarding – and would this be appropriate, fair, and practical?
- Should juries or judges be deciding the amount of monetary compensation awarded (for emotional loss)?
- Should compensation be awarded to the victims when a government has acted illegally?
Out of the box questions!
These are quite rare in our experience, but your interviewer might just like to throw these in to test how you approach new and unexpected intellectual problems.
- Are there any unanswerable questions?
- Are emotions illogical?
- Is honesty the best policy?
- What is the point of art?
- Why should we prefer an original painting over an identical copy?
- Can one really lie to oneself?
- ‘Don’t cry over spilled milk’. Is this good or bad advice?
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