Bringing Clinical Legal Education to Myanmar – a BABSEACLE Breakthrough.

By Wendy Connington volunteer.

For almost two years now BABSEACLE has had its mind set on expanding it’s mission into Myanmar. Now at the beginning of 2014, after almost a year of directly helping to assist with  CLE emersion and awareness activities in universities in Myanmar, BABSEACLE can say that a true national movement has now begun – to start implementing CLE programs throughout Myanmar.

Our preliminary work for this project began in July 2011 when BABSEACLE, along with a number of legal-aid minded lawyers from Myanmar, became members of the legal aid network SEALAW and trained together at an organizational development workshop in Bangkok. Myanmararticle_WC_29_1_14   This was followed by BABSEACLE’s attendance at the SEALAW/MLAW Access to Justice workshop in Yangon in December 2011 and pro bono-minded lawyers from Myanmar attending the 1st SE Asia/Asia Pro Bono Conference and Workshop in Laos in September, 2012. Building on this momentum and due to its commitment to justice education, in January 2013 BABSEACLE was invited by the UNDP to give a seminar at the first clinical legal education event ever held in Myanmar. This was held at the University of Yangon. Bruce A. Lasky, BABSEACLE’s codirector was then invited by the UNDP as an expert resource person to present at the ‘Promoting Justice Sector Development in New Democracies’ symposium co-organised by the UNDP and the Myanmar Attorney General in January, 2013. He focused on the value and need of justice education programs as a means to strengthen the justice sector.

Throughout these events discussions ensued about the interest in developing CLE programs in Myanmar. This included discussions with Myanmar education policy makers and representatives from a number of Myanmar university law departments.  As a result it was demonstrated that there was a very strong desire to develop these programs – there was political will to permit the program development and there were educational institutions eager to explore doing so.  These events and discussions sparked the UNDP to consider launching a pilot project to explore the likelihood of success of CLE in Myanmar. BABSEACLE was honored to have been chosen to lead that pilot project, along with truly committed partners such as the international law firm DLA Piper and their not-for-profit affiliate New Perimeters, as well as the Open Society Foundations, CLE Foundation, BABSEACLE Australia and BABSEACLE Singapore.

With these preliminary tasks accomplished, we began the job of helping to design a plan which would implement CLE in Myanmar. This year has focused on working towards providing structural, technical and material support for the university law departments of Myanmar Myanmararticlepic2_WC_29_WC_14that have expressed a strong interest in working to develop these programs.  This year, the project has aimed at instilling an understanding of the foundations of CLE programs in Myanmar by providing information to develop CLE programs and working with the universities to develop  strategic plans to establish CLE programs. It has included working with the university law lecturers and professors on how to apply CLE teaching methods and how to incorporate pro bono and legal ethics in law curriculums in Myanmar’s university law departments.

Our original plan was to begin working with only 7 university partners. Yet, it soon became obvious to us that all 18 universities throughout Myanmar were keenly interested in exploring what these CLE programs were all about. BABSEACLE has always found it difficult to say “NO” and this project was no exception. 18 universities it would be!

Providing general organizational capacity development to the university partners has been an initial focus of this project. This has been accomplished primarily through the national workshops we held with university partners within Myanmar, through their attendance at regional CLE events and through individual partner contact. Two national CLE exposure and skills trainings were held in 2013 and both were very successful workshops. The first was held at Yangon University in July 2013 with 16 law professors and lecturers from across Myanmar in attendance. The second conference was held at Mandalay University in September 2013 and included 39 law professors and lecturers from across Myanmar and 3 Myanmar legal aid lawyers. These workshops, held directly in the university law departments, were a breakthrough development.

Furthermore, we have also achieved groundbreaking attendances from Myanmar participants at CLE regional events. 32 Myanmar law lecturers attended CLE regional related events in 2013 including the 2nd SEAsia/Asia Pro Bono Conference and Workshop (Ho Chi Minh Myanmararticlepic3_WC_2014City, Vietnam), the 7th Worldwide Global Alliance for Justice Education Conference (Delhi, India) and the Clinical Legal Education as a Means to Assist in Reforming the Thailand Legal Education: Regional and International Experiences and Perspectives Conference (Khon Kaen, Thailand). These lecturers also attended the Pro Bono Conference with both Myanmar legal aid lawyers and civil society members focusing on access to justice issues. Dr. Mon Mon Tar, Head Professor at Dagon University, was asked to speak during the 2nd SEAsia/Asia Pro Bono Conference closing wrapup. She stated that “the event provided the participants from Myanmar valuable information on how to incorporate pro bono into the legal curriculum in Myanmar law departments” and following the event it was her intention to do so.

 As 2014 is now upon us it is our hope and plan that BABSEACLE will continue to assist in the development of CLE within Myanmar in the years ahead. We aim to continue the successes that we have had in South East Asia and expand the CLE movement further. We aim to strengthen the rule of law through CLE education methodology and pedagogy. With the support from the UNDP, the university law departments, and the policy makers of Myanmar that we have engaged with so far, these aims are well underway.

Author: Daniel Bald

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