This project explores novel and neglected aspects of contract law in Myanmar (Burma) and the reception of English law abroad. It examines the interpretation and development of the Myanmar Contract Act 1872 and similar enactments in Britain’s former Asian colonies and placing these in comparative context with contemporary English contract law. 

Background

Myanmar is in the midst of major legal and constitutional changes. Since transition to a quasi-civilian government in 2011, the new parliament has prioritised the modernisation of commercial laws. Most of these differ little from the 19th century Indian legislation they were copied from, which in turn sought to codify existing English law. Myanmar’s extended legal and political isolation

The intense level of legislative activity has highlighted two major areas of enquiry neglected to date by scholars and lawyers and yet critical to the reform programme.

  1. Laws currently in force: Myanmar has a turbulent constitutional history: colonisation and annexation to India in 1886; administrative separation in 1937; independence in 1948; two coup d’états (1962, 1988). Courts and lawyers nevertheless continue to view English law inherited via India as the basis of the legal system. However, research is scant about which enactments were in force when Myanmar was annexed and the effect of subsequent events on this body of rules.

  2. The law of contract: The primary source of contract law is the Myanmar Contract Act, which copies across the Indian Contract Act 1872. Very preliminary research indicates that some legislative and judicial adjustments to it have been made since its adoption but the full extent of this is ambiguous. Anecdotal evidence also suggests that what is practised in commercial transactions and what is taught as contract law in universities are disconnected. Despite other countries in the region possessing Contract Acts with an identical pedigree, very little work has gone towards placing Myanmar’s statute in context or examining how much it differs from the modern English law of contract. Contract law in Myanmar remains an under-theorised subject.

This project aims to engage with both issues, identifying the key questions that require answers and suggesting paths forward to answering them. Drawing on scholarship on the reception of English law abroad, it will attempt to identify the governing principles for determining which laws were in force at key constitutional milestones (including at annexation and independence). This work will then be applied to contract law and used to examine how developments in Myanmar compare to the evolution of English contract law since its codification by the British India Law Commissioners in the 1860s. We aim to identify the laws in force in Myanmar and conduct preparatory research for a larger proposed project examining how much the rules of contract law in countries in south and southeast Asia that retain a version of the Indian Contract Act 1872 have diverged from modern English contract law.

The project builds on Andrew Burrows' close involvement in the Faculty’s programme and offers a novel opportunity to bring English doctrinal analysis to an unchartered area of legal study. The project emerged from preparation for his teaching visit to Myanmar which took place in February 2015.