My research is driven by my interest in contemporary Southeast Asia and the formative years I spent first at the Asian Law Centre (the University of Melbourne) and then the Centre for Asian Legal Studies (National University of Singapore). My work is inspired by the legacy of scholars such as Professor Mal Smith (founder of the Asian Law Centre),[1] Professor MB Hooker and his formidable body of work on legal pluralism and Islamic law in Southeast Asia; and the late Professor Dan S Lev, the leading scholar on Indonesian law of his generation.[2] My work builds on this history of the development of the field of socio-legal studies in Southeast Asia. My research agenda and teaching is animated by several core interests: comparative constitutional law; law and governance; and law and religion.

Comparative Constitutional Law
Recent decades have seen a rapid intensification of constitutional change around the world. Southeast Asia has seen major constitution-making exercises – such as Cambodia, Indonesia, East Timor, Myanmar, Vietnam, and the approval of yet another constitution in Thailand – as well as constitutional amendments in Brunei, Cambodia, Malaysia and Singapore. My work focuses on the role and function of constitutions and courts under authoritarian regimes. My article on 'Democrats, Dictators and Dialogue: Myanmar's Constitutional Tribunal' (ICON 2018) offers the first explanation of the role and function of the court in Myanmar.

I am currently writing a book on The Constitution of Myanmar for the Hart Publishing series on Constitutions of the World. I also have a separate book project on, ‘The Dark Side of Constitutional Endurance: The Making of Constitutions in Myanmar’, considers how and why constitutions change in authoritarian regimes. This project is based on several years original, empirical and archival research that I have undertaken in Myanmar. This book seeks to further understanding of the 2008 Constitution – a military creation caught in the midst of political change – by reflecting on the constitutional past. In doing so, I will contribute to broader comparative constitutional scholarship on constitutional change and endurance in authoritarian regimes. This is funded by an ARC Discovery project (2018-2020).

I have written and taught on the expansion of emergency powers beyond constitutional texts in Indonesia and Myanmar, in ‘The Everyday Emergency’ and ‘The Expansion of Emergency Powers’ (2017). I have co-edited a special journal issue on the Indonesian Constitutional Court ('The First Decade of Indonesia's Constitutional Court' 2016). I designed curriculum on the Principles and Processes of Constitution-Making for the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance in Yangon. I have also written a chapter on participation and processes of constitutional reform in Southeast Asia for a volume on Comparative Constitution-Making (D Landau and H Lerner, eds, Edward Elgar).

My research has identified the re-emergence and potential of the constitutional writs as an avenue of administrative rights review in Myanmar (in Law, Society and Transition in Myanmar 2014). I have advised and provided intensive training for local and international organisations including USAID, Asian Development Bank, UNHCR and UNDP on the potential for administrative law reforms in Myanmar. I have designed and taught an advanced elective course on Comparative Administrative Law, with a unique focus on both common law and civil law systems in Southeast Asia.

I am currently collaborating with Dr Fritz Siregar of the University of Indonesia to investigate judicial independence and the role of the administrative courts to democratisation in Indonesia (2016-2017, funded by grants from ANU and UNSW).

Law and Development
From Indonesia to Cambodia, Laos, East Timor and now Myanmar, many states in Southeast Asia have been the focus of efforts for law reform in the hopes of engineering economic, political and social change. In the aftermath of the 1997 Asian financial crisis, many governments initiated major law reform support by, or due to the conditionality requirements of, bilateral and multilateral development agencies. For countries such as Myanmar, the heightened rush of law and development has come several years later during a time of major political transition.

One important aspect of law and governance is the renewed focus on the administration and accountability due to the rise of the regulatory state. My interest in this area began in 2004 with an internship at the local Ombudsman in Yogyakarta, Indonesia ('Indonesia's National and Local Ombudsman Reforms', 2007). My work seeks to explore the development of administrative law mechanisms in Southeast Asia, illuminating the critical importance of administrative accountability to democratic reform in the region. This includes freedom of information reforms to human rights commissions, ombudsman, anti-corruption commissions and administrative courts ('Asian Legal Transplants and Rule of Law Reform', 2013). Constitutional writs are also one potential means for the protection of rights in common law countries such as India and Myanmar.

My research is concerned with reimagining the current law and development paradigm and understanding the role of local actors in development (building on the work of Gillespie and Nicholson, Galanter and Trubek). I am concerned with understanding the ‘business’ of law and development that takes place in times of political change, which is the subject of an edited book 'The Business of Transition: Law Reform, Development and Economics in Myanmar' (Cambridge University Press). The volume identifies the way in which law becomes commercialised, creates new markets and is motivated by hopes of economic gain. This book is an invitation to think carefully and critically about the intersection between law, development and economics in times of political transition.

In other work, my writing has demonstrated the contribution of cause lawyers to the process of democratic reform in Indonesia, in the absence of a united bar association (‘Cause Lawyers in Indonesia’, 2013). I have published on the role of the courts and need to rethink our understanding of judicial independence in countries emerging from authoritarian rule, such as Indonesia and Myanmar (eg see ‘The Judiciary in Myanmar’ (2017), and ‘Myanmar’s Courts in an Era of Quasi-Military Rule’ 2017). In 2016-2017, I am leading a team of seven people on a major legal education project funded by the Asian Development Bank on strengthening the legal profession in Myanmar in corporate and commercial law. This project will include practical training for lawyers, government officials and judges in commercial law. I have a forthcoming article on 'The Legal Profession in Myanmar' (part of Richard Abel's Lawyers in Society series).

My work on the criminal justice system and courts in Indonesia has  offered the first empirical evidence on patterns in sentencing for the new crime of people smuggling ('Trials of People Smugglers' 2013, 'The Criminalisation of People Smuggling' 2013).

At UNSW, I teach an LLB/JD elective course on The Rule of Law in Southeast Asia. I also sit on the ACICIS Indonesian Law Advisory Panel, which for the first time in 2018 is running an exchange program for students on Indonesian Law in partnership with Indonesian universities.

One of my concerns is to help students engage deeply with Asia.[3] At UNSW, I am facilitating the Myanmar Ambassador’s Program in Law, which will fund five law students to undertake an internship with International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance in Myanmar in 2017-2019.

Law and Religion
Southeast Asia is home to a hybrid mix of legal traditions and has a long history of legal pluralism and recognition of religious law. Religion is central to past and present legal debates in Southeast Asia, from the blasphemy charges against the Governor of Jakarta, the rise of radical Buddhism in Myanmar and Sri Lanka, the status of minorities in Muslim-majority states, to the challenge of terrorism and the constitutional identity of the state. Scholars such as M B Hooker, Clifford Geertz and Dan Lev, and more recent work by Franz and Keebet von Benda Beckman, have demonstrated the importance of socio-legal research on law and religion in the region. My research is concerned with this complex intersection between law and religion in Southeast Asia.

My book 'Law and Religion in Indonesia' (2014) offers case studies on blasphemy, permits for places of worship, and the regulation of proselytization to illustrate how democracy and decentralisation have prompted a turn to law to resolve, or create, disputes between religious communities. This judicialisation of religion is explained by the increase in democratic freedoms, the decentralisation of power, and the historic tensions between Muslims and Christians, and within the Muslim community, in Indonesia. I have been concerned in my work with how states regulate religion and the effect this has on religious minorities. Building on the legacy of Professor Hooker, I have undertaken research on Islamic courts and fatwa (Islamic legal opinions) in Southeast Asia, particularly Indonesia, Myanmar, Malaysia and Singapore (‘Islamic Law and Society in Southeast Asia’, 2016). I am concerned with how competing authority claims are negotiated between the state and religious authorities.

Through the edited volume, ‘Islam and the State in Myanmar: Muslim Buddhist Relations and the Politics of Belongings’ (2016), my work offers new empirical and comparative perspectives on Muslim communities in Myanmar. In particular, it contributes to literature that reimagines the relationship between Buddhism and Islam (building on Elverskorg). I have written on the 2015 reforms to Burmese Buddhist Law in Myanmar, and was the first to identify the impact the new Monogamy Law may have on Buddhist women due to the long-standing recognition of polygyny under Burmese Buddhist Law (‘Polygyny, Promiscuity and the Power of Revenge’, 2016).

Throughout my teaching and research, I maintain a commitment to the socio-legal study of Southeast Asia. I teach an elective course at UNSW Law on Islamic Law and Society. In 2017 was invited to teach in the Institute for Global Law and Policy (IGLP) Harvard Law School workshop stream on ‘Law and Society in Southeast Asia’ in Bangkok. In 2014 I was a co-guest editor of a special journal issue on Socio-Legal Studies in Southeast Asia.

[1] Professor Mal Smith (1945-2006); Tim Lindsey (2006) 'Tribute-Australia's Asian Law Pioneer: Professor Malcolm D H Smith, 21 August 1945-22 June 2006' 30 Melbourne University Law Review 297-299; Stacey Steele (2010) ‘The Study of Asian Legal Systems in Australia and Professor Malcolm D. H. Smith’ In Legal Education in Asia: Globalisation, Change and Context. Routledge.

[2] Professor Dan S Lev (1933-2006); Tim Lindsey (2007) 'Doyen of Indonesian law and politics, Dan Lev (1934-2006) was at home with Indonesian activists' (2007) April- June 2007 Inside Indonesia 35-35; Sebastiaan Pompe (2012) ‘In Memoriam, Daniel S Lev 1933-2006’ 93 (April) Indonesia 197-207. His influential publications include The Transition to Guided Democracy (1966); Islamic Courts in Indonesia (1972); ‘Colonial Law and the Genesis of the Indonesian State’ (1985); and Legal Evolution and Political Authority in Indonesia (2000). In Indonesia, the Indonesia Institute for Social and Economic Research, Education and Information (LP3ES) published a collection of his classic essays in 1990 as Law and Politics in Indonesia.

[3] ACOLA (2015) Smart Engagement with Asia: Leveraging Language, Research and Culture. Australian Council of Learned Academies.


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