Fostering knowledge of Asia's legal systems

By Lianne Hall

A new philanthropic gift represents a forward-looking approach to one of the biggest challenges for the Australian legal profession and public in the 21st century: understanding and engaging with the legal systems on our doorstep.

Allan Myers AO 

The generous gift by Mr Allan Myers AO QC (LLB(Hons) 1970) and Mrs Maria Myers AO (LLB 1990) will help foster understanding of legal systems in Asia by supporting Melbourne Law School's initiatives and the work of the Asian Law Centre.

Director of the Asian Law Centre, Professor Pip Nicholson, says it is important for Australia to understand how the law works in the different countries across Asia.

"It is vitally significant for Australia to be literate in the legal systems within Asia, particularly as there is no one legal system in the region. There is no "Asian law". There are a series of fundamentally different legal systems that exist within our region," says Professor Nicholson.

"Our students, future lawyers (in whatever sector), existing practitioners, and policy makers have to be aware of the diversity between, and within, the systems. The fluency with which they can navigate those is vitally and increasingly important."

The funding, pledged as part of Believe – The Campaign for the University of Melbourne, will support two of the centre's key activities over a period of three years: The Australian Journal of Asian Law and the free, publicly available, Asian Law Online database.

The gift will also support a short course on common law to be taught in China by Melbourne Law School with other leading law schools. An annual public lecture at Melbourne Law School will give scholars, the profession and the public the opportunity to hear directly from a distinguished Asian scholar, while a Melbourne academic will deliver a public lecture in Asia.

"Two of the most important ways we enhance people's understanding of the legal systems of Asia is through publishing current research in the journal, and continually expanding our bibliographic database on Asian legal systems. Often this information is not available through any other source," says Professor Nicholson.

Asian Law Online is the first and most comprehensive bibliographic database of secondary sources on Asian legal systems and laws in the world, and the only one to also include chapters in books and theses. This vast, free and searchable bibliographic database of English language materials is a valuable resource for lawyers, students and the public.

The Australian Journal of Asian Law is a refereed scholarly journal that pioneered the publication of articles that cover all aspects of Asian legal systems. Edited at Melbourne Law School with colleagues from ANU and Hong Kong University, it is available online without charge from the Social Science Research Network, and is a leading forum for debate for scholars and professionals.

"These two publications are the bedrock of the centre's outreach activities. They provoke discussion about legal developments in the region," says Professor Nicholson.

Melbourne Law School has been playing a leading role in engaging with the legal systems of Asia, with the Asian Law Centre the largest Australian centre devoted to developing an understanding of the laws and legal systems within Asia.

"Today parts of the profession are deeply engaged with the region. A lot of Australian and international firms have either affiliate offices or, indeed, full partnerships with other legal professionals within the region," noted Professor Nicholson.

"As a result, rather than introducing basic laws that operate in different legal systems to a non-Asia literate legal audience, the focus of Asian Law Centre research today is on empirically testing and exploring dynamic legal reforms within the region and contributing to debates about the efficacy of such reform."

Image: Mr Allan Myers AO QC
Credit: supplied

This article originally appeared in MLS News, Issue 10, December 2013.