Understanding Myanmar and the Way Forward for Legal Education: From Rote Learning to Community Engagement Through Clinical Legal Education

Published date01 July 2020
Date01 July 2020
Subject MatterArticles
Understanding Myanmar and the
Way Forward for Legal Education:
From Rote Learning to Community
Engagement Through Clinical Legal
Nicholas Ross1, Carly Ardussi2, David Tushaus3, Soe Thiri Win4
and Zwe Pyae Sone Lwin4
The aim of this article is to use a community needs assessment to teach law students knowledge, skills
and values while identifying the areas of greatest need for access to justice services in the community.
To begin, the international team of US and Myanmar law faculty and students researched literature on
the country of Myanmar and various issues facing Myanmar’s citizens and its legal education system. We
also had a team from Missouri Western State University on the ground in Myanmar working with the
international non-governmental organization (NGO) BABSEACLE (formerly, Bridges Across Borders
South East Asia Clinical Legal Education) to work with faculty and students at the Department of
Law, Taunggyi. The team conducted a community needs assessment (CNA) on legal needs in Taunggyi,
Myanmar, to better understand community teaching needs. BABSEACLE provides law schools with
the tools and opportunities to expand clinical legal education (CLE). The team in Myanmar from
Missouri Western State University consisted of Professor David Tushaus and two undergraduate
students, Britane Hubbard and Kaylee Sharp, who had the opportunity to teach CLE in English to law
students at Taunggyi University. Professor Tushaus served as an international clinician in residence
(ICIR). BABSEACLE, operating in Myanmar since 2013, has successfully used ICIRs to introduce and
strengthen CLE, by embedding experienced law professors and practitioners at local universities to
serve as mentors to neophyte clinical faculty.5
1 Certificate in Legal Studies, Missouri Western State University, Saint Joseph, MO, USA.
2 Criminal Justice/Legal Studies Concentration, Missouri Western State University, Saint Joseph, MO, USA.
3 Criminal Justice, Legal Studies and Social Work, Missouri Western State University, Saint Joseph, MO, USA.
4 Department of Law, Taunggyi University, Taunggyi, Myanmar.
5 Later, we will address several of the barriers law students in Myanmar face, one of which is the mandate that all law students in
Myanmar are supposed to be required to learn the law in the English language.
Asian Journal of Legal Education
7(2) 97–115, 2020
© 2020 The West Bengal National
University of Juridical Sciences
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/2322005819886382
Corresponding author:
David Tushaus, Criminal Justice, Legal Studies and Social Work, Missouri Western State University, Saint Joseph,
E-mail: tushaus@missouriwestern.edu
98 Asian Journal of Legal Education 7(2)
The US-based research team conducted research and took an in-depth look at the literature on Myanmar
as a whole. It investigated Myanmar’s past, which also reveals the problems Myanmar has faced while
living under an authoritarian regime. In order to provide the community needs assessment (CNA)
context, the article will discuss how Myanmar’s history affected the education law students received in
Myanmar, and how it affects Myanmar’s law students today in the context of the research that the team
did in Myanmar. Myanmar’s education system in general and in law will be discussed.
Professor Tushaus worked with the Taunggyi University Law Department’s faculty and students to
organize a team to conduct a CNA. Although our findings from the community study were not definitive
on specific legal needs of the community, we were able to see some areas where work can be done to
advance future CNAs and community teaching programmes.
The most significant contribution of the CNA may have been the benefit the law students received
from interacting with and interviewing others in their community. It was only in the past few years that
Myanmar has slowly begun to examine and talk about current practices within the community.
Myanmar History’s Impact on the Legal System
The Monarchy and Buddhist Traditions
The history of Myanmar can be better understood for our purposes, if it is broken down into three
separate periods. There was a period prior to the 1800s when Burma (Myanmar)6 was ruled by Kings
vying for territory.7 Burma’s history of law came in large part out of how Buddhism had been practised
in Burma, very similar to how American law comes in large part from English common law.8 In the time
of the Kings, law was written down collectively in Dhammathats. These Dhammathats could contain
laws over many subjects, so much so that a large area of modern personal law in Myanmar is still
dictated by these ancient mandates.9 Including the Dhammathats, there were also Pyatton texts or
law reports.10 They could contain detailed accounts of a specific case or summaries of multiple cases.11
‘The judge, not the codifier, sat at the pinnacle of Burmese legal tradition…. Burma’s [legal tradition]
was a case law system, rather than a codified system.’12 So Myanmar has a long tradition of relying on
common law to resolve disputes.
6 There is some controversy over what to call the country today. Burma is still used by some to refer to the country, including by
the US government, in opposition to the military government that chose to change the name of the country to Myanmar. This article
will use Myanmar for present-day references to be consistent with a majority of the references in the international community.
7 Melissa Crouch, Rediscovering ‘Law’ in Myanmar: A Review of Scholarship on the Legal System of Myanmar, 23 Pac. Rim L.
& PoLy J. 543 (2014). We will refer to Myanmar as Burma when discussing the period before its name change to Myanmar.
8 Id. at 548.
9 Id. at 551.
10 Pyatton texts ranged anywhere from lists of rules to ethical sermons and autobiographical elements. There were also two other
important genres of Burmese law texts. A Yazarthat is Burmese law text that is normally claimed to be text from a king; these texts
could include sermons, rules or a discussion of constitutional points.
11 Crouch, supra note 7 at 551.
12 Id. at 63.

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