Cambridge University Law Interview: An Example

Henry Mares is a Fellow and Director of Studies in Law at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge. He helps Sidney Sussex to conduct interviews for Law applicants each year.

Below, Henry offers a glimpse of a Law interview at Cambridge by sharing the outline used by Sidney Sussex interviewers in the 2015–2016 admissions round. Because each Cambridge college conducts their own interviews, interview practices will vary from college to college. Although you will not see these exact questions in future Cambridge Law interviews, these examples may help you to understand what to expect if you are invited to interview.


The following material was almost word for word the basis of the first of the two law interviews at Sidney Sussex College in the 2015–2016 admissions round, albeit in any particular interview there was some slight variation depending on the responses given.

Absolutely NO legal knowledge was required to answer these questions, and indeed applicants tended to do better when they refrained from relying on bits and pieces of technical legal knowledge that they may have acquired in advance of their interview.

The exercises were meant to test the applicant’s analytical skills on the spot, capacity to interpret small extracts at a basic level, and to discuss a broad policy question on the basis of the materials given. In short, we were, and will be in the future, looking for thoughtful, competent, and sensible answers, rather than ‘correct’ answers: this was an exercise rather than a test.

This material will not be used again for interviews in the College, but it may be useful in thinking about the way in which Law interviews are conducted here.

First Law Interview at Sidney Sussex College, University of Cambridge

In the 2015–2016 admissions round

Introduction

The following introductory matters were done in the same way for all interviews

Bring in student, tell them to sit down, indicate that we have provided water for them.

Tell student: ‘Welcome, relax, have a sip of water if you want.’

First Interviewer: ‘Let me explain the structure of the interview: first we will check your file is up to date, then do the first exercise with me, then the second exercise with [Second Interviewer], then the third exercise with me again. Is that ok? So I can see if your file is correct, can you tell me what stage you are at in your education?’

Exercise 1

5–10 minutes, conducted by First Interviewer

First exercise. Consider the following definition of murder: ‘a person is guilty of murder if he intentionally causes the death of another person.’

What do you think ‘intentionally’ means in this context?

So am I guilty if I kill a pilot of an aeroplane I own by blowing up the aeroplane over the ocean in order to claim the insurance?

What if I poison a person’s tea, hoping to kill him, but with a poison that only works 0.005% of the time: do I intend his death?

What if I separate conjoined twins knowing that if I don’t both will soon die, but if I do one will die now but one might survive to live for many years?

The other difficult concept in the definition is ‘cause’: how would you describe what ‘cause’ means?

What if I am giving someone a lift in my car and I say ‘It is a lovely day’ and they irrationally leap out of the car in fright thinking I am going to kill them, and injure themselves so badly they die: have I caused the injury?

What if the victim could be saved but refuses a blood transfusion because they are biased against Australian doctors and so they die?

What is the difference (if any) between the last two?

What if I stab someone and the doctor could save them but the doctor mistakenly gives the patient the wrong drug and the patient reacts to it with a heart attack and dies?

What if there is an earthquake and the hospital falls down just as the patient arrives?

Exercise 2

5–10 mins, conducted by Second Interviewer

The question we would like to discuss with you now is: who can be the holder of a ‘right’? There are two main theories that give an answer to this question. According to the so-called Interest Theory of Rights, a being holds a right, for example the right to respect for private and family life, if his or her interest in respect for private or family life is sufficiently important to hold others bound by a duty not to interfere with this. According to the so-called Choice Theory of Rights, on the other hand, a being holds a right if he or she is able to choose what those bound by a corresponding duty may or may not do. For example, I have a right to respect for private and family life if I am able to choose to either waive or enforce my neighbour’s duty not to open my letters.

Now consider a child. Does he or she have rights under either theory?

Can you think of other cases where human beings might not be able to exercise the type of choice that is necessary for them to hold rights under the Choice Theory?

To what extent is it a problem that the Choice Theory has problems with accounting for the right-holdership of children and similar beings?

On Cambridge colleges’ lawns, you will often find signs saying “keep off the grass” — does that mean that blades of grass are right-holders?

To what extent is it a problem that the Interest Theory struggles with limiting right-holdership to an exclusive group of beings?

What about a right not to be tortured: is that a Choice Theory or an Interest Theory right?

People often refer to rights as “trumps”: which rights theory is better able to accommodate this, and why?

Think of a criminal law provision that prohibits theft. [The first interviewer], for example, is prohibited from stealing my pencil. With regard to this criminal law provision, am I a right-holder under either theory? Why (not)?

Exercise 3

5–10 mins, conducted by First Interviewer

Take a few moments to relax and to read the following paragraph, take your time, and then tell me what it means.

The student was given a copy of the following paragraph:

The normal way to establish that a person, referred to as ‘A’, should be acknowledged to have legitimate authority over another person, referred to as ‘B’, involves showing that B is likely to do what she actually should do (setting aside her compliance with the directives of A as one of the things B ‘should do’) better if B accepts the directives of A as authoritatively binding, and tries to follow those directives, rather than if B tries to do what she should do without following A’s directives.

What does this mean? Can you give me an example? If it might help: ignore the brackets to start.

Can you give me an example of someone who would not have legitimate authority?

What about a regulatory agency that labels washing machines as environmentally friendly?

What does this have to do with law?

Conclusion

Any procedural questions for us?

Thank you very much for coming in. Do you know where to go now?


After applying through the UCAS application system, applicants to Cambridge University are invited by their college to interview in the first two weeks of December. These interviews are arranged by the college handling your application, and as such, practices will vary from college to college. For specific questions about the interviews, please contact the college that you applied to.

Although Law applicants can expect an interview that will discuss legal concepts, no prior knowledge of Law is required. For more information about the interview process at Cambridge University, see the University’s website or the Cambridge Law Faculty’s website.

An updated version of this article, including an example interview from the 2016–2017 admissions round, can be found here.

The information in this article is considered correct at the time of publication.