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Centre for Asian Legal Studies' inaugural lecture examines constitutional law

7 July 2013

Prof Saunders delivering her lecture on constitutional law

Prof Saunders with Prof Harding (seated, 2nd from left) and authors at the book launch of Constitutional Systems of the World
National constitutions have traditionally defied comparison. Nevertheless, a recent proliferation in “borrowing” from other national legal systems, coupled with an increase in international constraints on state actors, has expanded the scope for comparative constitutional law.

Melbourne Law School’s Laureate Professor Cheryl Saunders shared her insights on constitution-making on 28 June 2013 at the NUS Centre for Asian Legal Studies' (CALS) inaugural Distinguished Visitor Lecture. Her talk, entitled Constitution-Making as Applied Comparative Law: Insights from Asia, was attended by Singapore’s legal community including Supreme Court Justice Chao Hick Tin, NUS faculty and students, as well as practitioners.

Prof Saunders, a prolific scholar in the field of comparative public law and a participant in designing several constitutional systems, noted that the trend has raised interesting sets of questions.

She pointed out that while convergence rendered the systems more similar, it might also make new methods of comparison necessary. She also queried whether processes of globalisation were affecting constitutional institutions.

In a world where over half of today’s constitutions are less than 25 years old, Prof Saunders highlighted the role of the international community in assisting many constitutional moments.

She noted that examining different regions could help in better understanding constitutional “psychologies” intimately tied up with textual interpretation. In this regard, Asia might prove exceptionally important, having demonstrated a mix of openness to borrowing from other constitutional systems and confidence in its own forms of uniqueness.

Questions from the audience addressed the longevity of individual constitutional systems, the role of text and context in defining constitutional content, the effects of international norms, as well as the role of indigenity and traditional forms of social organisation on constitutional interpretation.

The lecture was followed by the Asian launch of Hart Publisher’s Constitutional Systems of the World. The series comprising 17 volumes, in which Prof Saunders authored the volume on Australia, is edited by CALS Director Professor Andrew Harding and Professor Peter Leyland from University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies. Eight authors were also present at the event.

By Jason Bonin, CALS Rapporteur