Rule-of-law Lineages in Colonial and Early Post-colonial Burma

Nick Cheesman*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

    5 Citations (Scopus)


    These days the rule of law is often invoked in Burma. Although its contemporary salience is partly a consequence of recent global trends, the rule of law also has lineages in the country's colonial and early post-colonial periods. To examine these lineages, this article distinguishes between its procedural and substantive conceptions. Whereas the latter conception recognizes the subjects of law as freely associating equals, the former is compatible with a range of political practices, including those that are undemocratic. The records of decisions in criminal cases before Burma's superior courts during the period of British domination suggest that some semblance of procedural rule of law did exist, and that it was compatible with the rule of colonial difference. Out of this procedural rule of law a nascent, substantive type emerged during the early years of democratic life in the post-colony, before the onset of military dictatorship. The article concludes that more effort to structure interpretations of the rule of law in history might better enable discussion about the concept's continued relevance.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)564-601
    Number of pages38
    JournalModern Asian Studies
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2016


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