Irish solicitors promoting social justice in Myanmar

Irish solicitors promoting social justice in Myanmar

By Aisling Woods, Solicitor with Howard Synnott Solicitors

 

In September 2015 I responded to a notice in the Law Society Gazette advertising a volunteer opportunity with Irish Rule of Law International (IRLI) in Myanmar. IRLI is the joint charity of the Law Society and the Bar of Ireland with a focus on strengthening the rule of law in the developing world. A team of Irish lawyers was being put together, led by Freda Grealy, Head of the Law Society’s Diploma Centre, to support the work of local NGO Bridges Across Borders South East Asia-Community Legal Education (BABSEACLE) in their community legal education work and specifically the 2nd Annual National Mock Trial Event to be held in Yangon in February 2016.

 

During the first year of my Professional Practice Course I participated in the Law Society Diploma Centre’s Street Law Programme which is based upon the Clinical Legal Education methodology of legal education – encouraging interactive learning and building knowledge in law and the confidence of transition year students to express themselves. BABSEACLE’s work in Myanmar also follows this approach through encouraging capacity building and promoting concepts of social justice in legal education. I was so excited therefore to be join the team of volunteer solicitors and to travel to Myanmar to work with BABSEACLE in early February. I travelled over with Pat MacGonagle (McGonagle Solicitors), Lisa Conkey (BLM), Mary Clear (Brophy&Martin), Stephanie O’Brien (Office of the DPP), Clara Wallace (McCann Fitzgerald) and Rory O’Boyle (Law Society Diploma Centre) to join Freda who has been in Myanmar since November 2015 on a 6 month sabbatical working with BABSEACLE. It is important to say how grateful we are to our firms and others such as Eversheds for sponsoring our participation in this project and to everyone else who supported us through direct donations. I organised a charity event in Dublin’s Laughter Lounge and my firm Howard Synnott Solicitors also generously sponsored the project.

 

The days leading up to the Mock Trial Event held on 6th & 7th February were spent in a revision workshop going over the rules of evidence, opening and closing statements, chief examination, cross examination and etiquette of a court room. The CLE Mock Trial Event itself is a practical learning experience for both law students and their teachers which gives them the opportunity to improve their legal skills and their understanding of values and professional ethics. Legal education in Myanmar is very traditional with little opportunity for skills training and many of the teachers do not have practice experience. Indeed, many lawyers in Myanmar who have been practising for years may have had little opportunity to experience a court room that values concepts such as due process in this once military-controlled nation.

 

During our time in Myanmar the Irish lawyers divided up and supported BABSEACLE to provide additional training workshops to legal aid centres. Freda and Rory facilitated a workshop in the Mawlamyaing Justice Centre on the Ethical Practice of Client Centered lawyering with Director Bruce Lasky while I, together with Stephanie O’Brien and Mary Clear, travelled nine hours to Mandalay with BABSEACLE Directors Wendy Morish and Helen Yandell to the local Rule of Law Centre. This workshop was aimed at improving the skills of legal education teachers who travel to rural communities and teach residents about issues affecting their communities. This encourages capacity building; it raises awareness of values of the legal profession; promotes access to justice and creates awareness of social justice issues.

 

Big changes are happening in Myanmar. Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) won a landslide victory in the November 2015 general elections bringing to an end the dominance of the military in the parliament. This means that the NLD will now be able to form a government – the first administration not selected by the military establishment since the 1960s. The citizens of Myanmar are by far the most gracious, honest and kind people I have encountered. The students and teachers that I worked with were an inspiration. The young people of Myanmar are the future leaders and these future leaders through training initiatives such as the CLE Mock Trial Event will develop the required knowledge, skills and values that will greatly improve their communities and their own lives.

 

[L-R] Mary Clear, Aisling Woods and Stephanie O'Brien12642762_10205363517755190_5394477813048515137_n

BABSEACLE Externship Clinic2DSC_0061

Rule of Law Centre Mandalay1Freda Grealy facilitating Workshop

National Mock Trial CompetitionIMG_7601