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Prompted by the recent closure of this question as a duplicate.

Yes, the jurisdiction topic again. I don't visit meta too often, though I have been aware that answers from jurisdictions not matching the question are encouraged1. However, I did not realize that we might start to close questions as duplicates cross-jurisdictionally as a result, and would like to voice my opposition2 to that for the reasons below.

Note: I'm using block-quotes for formatting & ease of reading; it's not my intent to directly quote any particular user, these are just paraphrases of various arguments I've seen for preferring a single question with answers from multiple jurisdictions to multiples of similar questions for different jurisdictions.

Often jurisdictions handle certain legal questions the same way, so we should mark them as duplicates.

No, that makes answers possibly duplicate, but not the questions. A question-asker wouldn't generally know in advance whether two jurisdictions do in fact share the same answer. Even worse in my opinion is when the user is directed to the duplicate question and there isn't actually an answer applicable to the jurisdiction they are looking for. In fact, quoting some rational when the ability to target answerless questions when closing as duplicates was removed (retained in marginal cases):

[...] the proof is in the answers. If the question looks the same, but the answers aren't solving the asker's problem, that is not a dupe – that is a legitimate new question. [...]

Quoting from the Stack Exchange FAQ on how duplicates should be handled:

According to Stack Exchange co-founder Joel Spolsky, we should only close real duplicates, and according to co-founder Jeff Atwood, there are three kinds of duplicates: cut-and-pastes, accidental duplicates, and borderline duplicates (requiring judgement as applied by the community).

Questions may be duplicates if they have the same (potential) answers. This includes not only word-for-word duplicates, but also the same idea expressed in different words.

[...]

On main sites, the main point of closing questions as duplicates is to point users to better answers;

I would argue cross-jurisdictional questions could at best be considered borderline duplicates. But to me they fall short. While questions may be duplicates if they have the same potential answers, that's not usually the case here at Law.SE because possible legislation citations and case law will likely be different. It's not just about whether X is illegal: we're an educational site, it's also about why X is (il)legal and that will almost always produce different answers.

Also, while programming languages and jurisdictions aren't exactly the same, it's interesting to note that the Stack Overflow community seems to prefer not closing questions with different programming languages as duplicates even if the answer is appropriate for multiple programming languages.

The site might get overwhelmed and/or wasn't designed to handle too many of the same question for different jurisdictions.

Stack Exchange is a for-profit company that is attempting to rely on good Q&A design for it's business. While it's far from perfect there are a few ways to handle this:

  • Tagging the question. This provides easy distinction between questions. As a bonus they are easily searchable using [tag-search-syntax]. Note this is something that doesn't apply to answers, even if those answers use [tag:markdown-syntax].
  • If answerers are tired of seeing the same question for different jurisdictions over and over again, they can downvote the questions because they are uninteresting. This is a natural disincentive for asking questions just to do so, or for gaining reputation. In fact, downvoting questions used to cost reputation, encouraging more users to downvote uninteresting questions was specifically identified as a reason for removing this reputation cost.

Is getting overwhelmed with too many of the same question an actual problem we're facing? In this respect, I feel like closing questions as cross-jurisdictional duplicates is a solution in search of a non-existent problem. Furthermore, I would argue the alternative could be worse. Imagine 5 of the same question differing only by jurisdiction each with 3 on-jurisdiction answers. If we force these questions to close as duplicates, we might then end up with 15 answers on the same question. As I've already covered, answers are harder to search for jurisdiction. It would also be more difficult to compare and vote informatively for the answers of the same jurisdiction as there's no way to sort answers by jurisdiction. Also, a question having too many possible answers was a reason for closing questions as "too broad" (though I notice that "too broad" is now effectively "needs more focus," don't know if the guidelines have changed on that).

The question-asker should start a bounty on the older question requesting an answer for a newly specified jurisdiction.

No, this is a barrier to site participation. New users won't even have the necessary reputation to start a bounty (unless given association bonus from another SE site, but then just barely). Even users with sufficient reputation might not want to sacrifice the reputation as it might lead to loss of privileges granted at certain reputation levels. And some just value their internet points.

Additionally I would argue that's not what bounties were designed for. The list of available reasons for starting a bounty doesn't include "I need an answer to a slightly different question."


  1. While I understand they are linked, I wanted the focus of this meta-question to be about question duplication and not off-jurisdiction answers, so this is a footnote. For many of the same reasons I outline above, I'm not even really in favour of encouraging off-jurisdiction answers, but don't think they should necessarily be discouraged either as they can at least be interesting and may still help the question-asker. Anecdotally, I feel off-jurisdiction answers get less votes than they otherwise would under a same-jurisdiction question, so I don't think I'm alone in thinking this way.
  2. Except in the case of federalism. Eg. if someone asks a question, but it's actually a matter of federal law, then by all means close it as a duplicate of a question. Or even a question, but that latter question should probably be retagged to in this scenario. Please no one mention the .
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  • The objection based on searching answers for a particular jurisdiction becomes moot with the pending introduction of answer tags. If a person can find answers that apply to the specific jurisdiction they need, just by selecting it, the same as can be done with questions now, then there is no need for multiple repeated questions differing only by jurisdiction, and they are indeed actual duplicates. Basing decisions on a meta question receiving barely a hundred views and suspiciously high number of votes compared with normal community voting patterns, is hardly a consensus.
    – Nij
    Sep 18 at 10:02
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    @Nij I don't find anything abut answer tags by searching on meta. Can you link to an official announcement of thsi, or any other info, please? Sep 18 at 17:40
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    @Nij Our community is relatively small. "Barely a hundred views" is actually on the higher end for us... as I write this it's 10th/37th in views out of meta questions asked in the last 6 months, and those questions have had the benefit of more time elapsed. Additionally what makes you regard votes as "suspicious"? To me high number of votes just indicates the community feels strongly about this topic rather than anything suspicious occurring.
    – DPenner1
    Sep 18 at 18:05
  • The "version tag" project is in early discovery on SO only, as of August. There is currently backstage work on bringing them to other sites, but I would expect them to be on offer at the start of next year, if the SO experiment is positive. @DavidSiegel
    – Nij
    Sep 18 at 21:56
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    @Nij then the searching issue is not yet moot, and may never be. We can revise any policy when we see how such a new feature works, if it is ever implemented. IMO it should have no effect on this discussion at this time. Sep 18 at 22:00
  • Ten upvotes exactly on both the question and the answer supporting it, but only five downvotes on the answer opposing it, suggest it is not really interested members of the community, but people with only enough rep to do one and not the other, i.e. visitors from elsewhere on the network, who are backing this. @DPenner1
    – Nij
    Sep 18 at 23:27
  • @Nij Fair point, seems unlikely to me, but possible.
    – DPenner1
    Sep 19 at 1:59
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    @DPenner1 this meta post is currently a Hot Meta Post that is also shown on the main site's sidebar, thus giving more exposure. While I'm not a regular, I sometimes visit Hot Meta Post to know what's currently ongoing on the site. Note that I only upvoted the question because it's a good discussion to have/clarify, but I don't vote on the answers because I don't want to skew it... but that doesn't prevent anyone else with association bonus rep from upvoting them (while they cannot downvote).
    – Andrew T.
    Sep 19 at 2:48
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Questions about different jurisdictions should not be considered duplicates

Just like questions about different programming languages on Stack Overflow, different operating systems on Super User, different games on Role-Playing Games, etc.

The main reason is simple: they have different answers. The Stack Exchange Q&A engine is designed to rank the best answer to a single question. We should only mark questions duplicates of the same question for the same jurisdiction, even if we do allow off-jurisdiction answers because they're interesting (a policy on which I express no opinion here).

Marking a question as a duplicate of a question from another jurisdiction places a message stating "This question already has answers here:" on the question, when that is often (as in the example here) not the case.

Other reasons include:

  • People are less incentivized to provide new answers to older questions, because they can't receive the benefit of Hot Network Questions and their answer won't be accepted because it didn't answer the question asked.
  • Information will be harder to find because the question isn't tagged with the right jurisdiction.

A note on jurisdictions with separate federal and state/provincial governments: While I'm generally in favor of marking state questions duplicates where the answer is purely a matter of federal law, we should be careful in doing so: it may be the case that in some states it's purely a matter of federal law, while another state has relevant state law.

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  • Enforcing the distinction by jurisdictions would require us to allow the same question differing only by jurisdiction purely because someone has asked about jurisdiction #123 while existing answers only cover up to jurisdiction #99, and disallow answers that are not relevant to the jurisdiction of that specific question. You cannot logically untangle the two policies; stating an opinion on one policy implies the corresponding opinion on the other.
    – Nij
    Sep 17 at 8:42
  • @Nij The policies can be disentangled because Q's & A's are fundamentally different and are treated as such by SE, eg. you can't "close" an answer, it would have to be deleted. When deciding to close a question as duplicate, the fundamental criteria is "Are they the same?" (I hope that's uncontroversial). For answers it’s more debatable but could be "not an honest attempt to help the asker." There are reasonable ways to evaluate those criteria where the policies are entangled, but they aren't a priori entangled and there are reasonable ways to evaluate the criteria where they stay separated.
    – DPenner1
    Sep 19 at 2:00
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    That's not the criteria at all, and does not match what we find on Meta or in the various discussions and help pages. Those make it clear that it's the answers which define a duplicate, not purely the question alone. Paraphrased, "if the answers to that question are also the answers to this question, they are duplicates and should be closed so that askers are directed to the existing answers". Answers to Question X concerning jurisdiction A B C are answers to question X concerning jurisdictions J K, so the answers to one are answers to the other, so they are duplicates.
    – Nij
    Sep 19 at 3:04
  • @Nij I don't disagree too much with what you said there... I'll note I said "fundamental criteria" because in a comment, there's not room to list all the criteria... I would also note based on the SE Meta I cited in my Q, I would in my opinion, adjust the paraphrase to "if the potential answers to that question are also the potential answers to this question, they are duplicates and should be closed", but as I argue in my Q I don't believe that's true as a rule cross-jurisdictionally due to potential of citing different case-law & statute.
    – DPenner1
    Sep 19 at 3:27
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    .. and I disagree that "are [the questions] the same?" is fundamental. It is a sufficient condition alone for duplicate closure, but not necessary by any stretch.
    – Nij
    Sep 19 at 4:49
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Questions differing only by jurisdiction are duplicates

However, questions differing by jurisdiction and having materially different answers are not

So when deciding whether to close a question as a duplicate, the threshold issue is this:

Don’t answer questions that have already been answered elsewhere.

To be a duplicate, the answer(s) on the original must answer the question asked in the duplicate. And by answering, I mean within the scope of "Law Stack Exchange is for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for individualized advice from a qualified legal practitioner." If the original answers the question to that the extent that the general legal principles are identified and explained then it's a duplicate even if a particular case may break in different ways on the nuance of jurisdiction.

The question that prompted this question is a clear example of a duplicate (paraphrasing):

  • The original question is "Can a parking garage put crap on my car and do they have to pay to remove it?"
  • There are several answers which amount to "Maybe" and identify the types of law that would apply - criminal and tort damage to property and also that its not worth bringing a suit. This is probably as much as we can expect so the question is answered.
  • The second question is essentially the same except it adds that the placing of the sticker was a mistake and that it happened in California rather than the UK.
  • AFAIK the mistake doesn't change the basic scenario and the general categories of law are the same between the jurisdictions. So the answers to the original answer the duplicate.
  • It may be that there are specific nuances between the jurisdictions which means one will succeed in a suit and the other will fail - that's not material and it's exactly the kind of thing that amounts to "individualized advice from a qualified legal practitioner."
  • These questions are duplicates.

Now there are questions where jurisdiction is highly relevant. For example, gun law in the United States is so radically different from the rest of the Anglosphere that questions about them will probably not be duplicates. Similarly, common law and civil law systems are close in some respects and different in others; some questions will be duplicates and others won't. Conversely Sharia law is so different from either that most questions will not be duplicates.

There is a policy: Use your best judgement when voting to close.

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  • 3
    I have to disagree on several points here. (1) In context, I read the "Don’t answer questions that have already been answered elsewhere." quote as advice to answerers on what to do when encountering a duplicate question, not identifying duplicates. This putting the cart before the horse, as we must first determine whether the question is a duplicate. (2) Predicating closing a question as a duplicate on having materially different answers requires that you know that the possible answers (note plural - SE permits multiple per question) to both questions are exactly the same...
    – DPenner1
    Sep 15 at 23:58
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    ... I don't know many who could claim that for two jurisdictions at once, and even if they could, how do they know a better answer doesn't exist that could apply to one jurisdiction but not the other? (3) "There is a policy: User your best judgement when voting to close" - Yes, that's good general advice, but here I would like to use my best judgement to reopen the question (which I've respectfully delayed for now)... and if there's wide disagreement in the community, if everyone follows this advice without coming to community consensus, we have an unhelpful re-open/re-close situation occuring
    – DPenner1
    Sep 15 at 23:58
  • As an asker, how can I know if the UK and California have similar laws on parking garage stickers if I don't know what California's laws about garage stickers are?
    – Andrew Ray
    Sep 20 at 20:38
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    @AndrewRay as an asker, it doesn’t matter. Closed duplicate questions are not a bug, they are a feature. Lots of dupes help subsequent people find the answer.
    – Dale M Mod
    Sep 20 at 22:16
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This question has eleven answers, covering at least eight jurisdictions across four continents.

But it does not tell me anything about up to 48 US states, or Canada or Mexico; no information about southeast Asia; and very not much of South America.

This proposed policy would mean someone who wants to know about the exact same situation, except just one border over can and should ask a question with the exact same text, and simply change it to being one of the several hundred jurisdictions not yet addressed.

What is the point of that? It does nothing useful to make the question more easily searchable; anybody looking for "drunk driving on wheelchair" will hit enough keywords for the search bar to present the question and its answers above. It does nothing to add new content to the site; the question itself already exists and the answers could be written exactly the same on the existing question as easily as on the new one.

This discussion is not even new recently. This meta question from July asked about the problem that this policy creates. The answers there made it clear, and reflect what has been undisputed policy for years, that there is no need to ask the same question again for different jurisdictions, because you can get the answer for any jurisdiction from asking it just once.

The mission of Stack Exchange is to create Q&A that help others into the future. This mission is not achieved by having 321 different forms of "is it legal to ride a wheelchair drunk in Exwyzeland?" and finding those answers is made more difficult by splintering the answers across a multitude of posts.

Closing these questions as duplicate sends all searchers to all the answers, not all the searchers to two answers here and maybe one answer over there and possibly another over there if you're lucky with the search terms. Duplicate closures are not deleted by the system for that reason; they signpost users back to the place where we have collated and collected all the answers for them.

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