VWV host Burmese lawyers’ visit to hear about challenges of legal life in Myanmar

March 6, 2019

Four Burmese lawyers have been given advice by counterparts from the Bristol headquarters of national law firm VWV on how to tackle the challenges of legal life in Myanmar, where criminal procedure remains based on an 1898 British colonial act.

U Kway Hoe, Daw Thuzar Yin, Daw Aye Mon Thu and Daw Phyu  Phyu Win were invited to meet VWV partner Allison Cook and consultant Stephen McNamara, who outlined the ins and outs of the English legal system, as well as the professional ethics, standards and independence of British lawyers.

The visit was part of a week-long visit to the UK to learn about the legal system and help tackle some of the challenges faced by Burmese lawyers as well as contributing to the rule of law in Myanmar.

The vast majority of the accused go through the Burmese court system without any advice or representation, and many lawyers do not challenge the police for fear of losing their job.

A former British colony in South East Asia, Myanmar is currently rated 110th out of 126 countries for the openness and fairness of its legal system. During decades of military rule, the law was used as a tool of control, rather than to protect rights, and corruption became deeply engrained.

While it has recently transitioned from a 50-year military dictatorship into a nascent democracy, the military retain considerable power and control.

The visit builds on work undertaken by Stephen McNamara, who recently spent a year volunteering at the Justice Centre in Myanmar’s largest city Yangon (formerly Rangoon) to help improve the criminal procedure.

Since then he has worked with a local NGO (non-governmental organisation) Tharthi Myay Foundation to develop training materials for lawyers based on case studies.

Tharthi Myay funded the lawyers’ visit to the UK with the Myanmar Trust, a UK charity that works for social justice in the country.

As well as VWV, the Burmese lawyers were due to meet the Avon & Somerset Police, defence lawyers and barristers and will be visiting the courts.

VWV partner Allison Cook said: “Being in a country where there is a clear separation of powers, it can be easy to take access to justice for granted.

“We were incredibly humbled by the bravery and commitment of our fellow lawyers and honoured to share with them the importance of professional standards and our commitment to the rule of law.”

Pictured, from left: Allison Cook, Zunetta Herbert, Daw Thuzar Yin, Daw Phyu  Phyu Win, Daw Aye Mon Thu, Stephen McNamara and U Kway Hoe

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