UPDATE: The Legal System of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar
By Dr. Su Wai Mon and Dr. Md. Ershadul Karim
Dr. Su Wai Mon is a Lecturer at the Faculty of Law, Multimedia University (MMU), Melaka Campus Malaysia.
Dr. Md. Ershadul Karim is a Senior Lecturer at the Faculty of Law, University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and a non-practicing lawyer enrolled with the Bangladesh Supreme Court.
Published September/October 2021
(Previously updated by Dr. Su Wai Mon and Dr. Md. Ershadul Karim in September/October 2017)
Table of Contents
- 1. Introduction
- 2. A Brief Legal History
- 3. Executive Organ
- 3.1. The State Counselor
- 4. Legislative System
- 5. Judiciary
- 5.1. The Supreme Court of the Union
- 5.2. High Courts of the Region and High Courts of the State
- 5.3. District Courts, Courts of the Self-Administered Division and Courts of the Self-Administered Zone
- 5.4. Township Courts
- 5.5. Courts-Martial
- 5.6. The Constitutional Tribunal of the Union
- 5.7. Other Courts
- 6. Sources of Law
- 7. Legal Profession
- 8. Legal Education
- 9. Myanmar and International Law
- 10. Government Offices
- 11. Useful Links
- 12. Other
The Republic of the Union of Myanmar (hereinafter ‘Myanmar’), formerly known as Burma, is a sovereign state in Southeast Asia that borders Bangladesh, India, China, Laos, and Thailand. Its coastline extends from the Bay of Bengal to the Andaman Sea between Bangladesh and Thailand. It has a total of 261,227 square miles (676,578 square kilometers) of territory which approximately consists of 252,319 square miles (653,508 square kilometers) land territory and 8,907 square miles (23,070 square kilometers) coastline. Myanmar is constituted by seven regions as well as states and a union territory: Kachin State, Kayah State, Kayin State, Chin State, Sagaing Region, Taninthayi Region, Bago Region, Magway Region, Mandalay Region, Mon State, Rakhine State, Yangon Region, Shan State, Ayeyawady Region, and Nay Pyi Taw (the union territory). Nay Pyi Taw is also the current capital city of Myanmar (Sections 45 and 50, the Constitution of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar 2008, hereinafter “the 2008 Constitution”), and Yangon, the former, remains as the commercial capital city. According to the Central Intelligence Agency – The World Factbook - Burma, Myanmar is rich in natural resources such as antimony, coal, copper, hydropower, lead, limestone, marble, natural gas, petroleum, precious stones, timber, tin, tungsten, and zinc. The society of Myanmar is multi-ethnic as well as multi-religious in nature, and Burmese is the official language. Politically, until January 31, 2021, the country used to practice a multi-party democratic system. Its legislative, executive, and judicial powers were separated for the purpose of reciprocal control, check, and balance among themselves. These three branches of sovereign power are constitutionally shared among the union territory, regions, states, and self-administered areas (Section 11, the 2008 Constitution).
The current political situation in Myanmar is unfortunately not stable since February 1, 2021, when the Myanmar military overthrew the democratically elected government and detained the State Counsellor, Aung San Su Kyi along with other elected leaders. The peace-loving and democracy-craved ordinary citizens and some civil servants refused to accept these military moves and started to protest using different modes and mediums. Such activities of the protesters made the military regime furious resulting in the use of ‘unnecessary, disproportionate and lethal force’ in the name of protection of public safety and security and control of civil disobedience. The Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights briefed that as a consequence of the protest demonstration after this military coup, hundreds of people have been killed, many have been receiving arrest warrants, thousands have been detained, some have been prosecuted secretly while some other unfortunates have received death sentences, and there is no sign of an end to these brutal crackdowns. Additionally, thousands of civil servants—nearly 70 percent women—and workers in the education sector have been dismissed, removed, or suspended from their jobs. As a result, the future political direction of the country is currently uncertain. Therefore, the readers of this article should keep in mind that the relevant information on the legal and government system as covered in this article may experience a paradigm shift and transformations, and not be functioning in the same way as they have been in the past.
Before British occupation, Myanmar was ruled by absolute monarchs (“Thet Oo San Pine” system in the Burmese language), and thus kings held the supreme power in the executive, legislative, and judiciary. In the executive function, the king was the highest authority, assisted by ministers (Wonmin), mayors (Myosar), town-chiefs (Thanbyin), village-headmen (Kalan, Ywarsar), and government servants (Luhlin Kyaw). The sole legislative power was vested to the king, and he was assisted by the Parliament (Hluttaw). The king was also the highest authority in the judiciary and assisted by the supreme queen, crown prince, princes as well as ministers in the parliament, judges appointed by the king, mayors, town-chiefs, and village-headmen. In ancient times, the practice of “trial by ordeal” was common, and most criminal punishments were fines. There were only four types of crimes punishable by the death penalty, i.e., murder, rebellion, insurgency, and rape.
The beginning of the formal judicial system in Myanmar can be traced back to the epoch of the BaganDynasty (849-1287 A.D). There were three primary sources of law, namely yazathat, dhammthat, and phyat-htone. “Yazathat” refers to the king’s royal edicts and ordinances, which are composed of the king’s command and criminal laws. “Dhammthat” is derived from the Hindu Dharmashastra (treaties on law), which was later reformed as Myanmar Customary Law. “Phyat-htone”means the judicial decisions made by the Hluttaw and various benches and courts in the country.
In 1886, the British established the Court of Judicial Commissioner for Upper Myanmar in Mandalay. The Court of the Lower Myanmar was established in 1990 as the highest appeal court. In 1922, the High Court of Judicature of Yangon was established after the abolishment of the aforesaid two judicial organs. Sub-divisional courts, district civil and session courts, and township courts were also established with specific jurisdiction. The British also introduced several criminal as well as civil laws, including the Indian Penal Code (1860), Criminal Procedure Code (1862), Indian Evidence Act (1872), and Civil Procedure Code (1859).
Even after gaining its independence on January 4, 1984, Myanmar continues to apply the common law legal system as its basis. The Supreme Court, High Court, and other subordinate courts were established at different levels under the Union Judiciary Act of 1948. The Supreme Court was the highest court as well as the final appeal court throughout the Union, and its decisions were binding over all other courts. In 1962, the Revolutionary Council abolished the former judicial system and formed the Chief Court to be in line with socialism. In 1974, it further introduced a new Constitution under which the Central Court, state and divisional courts, township courts, wards, and village tracts courts were established.
In 1988, the State Law and Order Restoration Council enacted the Judiciary Law to transform the aforesaid socialist judicial system. The Supreme Court and High Court were re-established in the same year. In 2000, this was again repealed by the Judiciary Law by the State Peace and Development Council in transforming the formation of courts. Lastly, in 2010, the Union of Myanmar, the Union Judiciary Law was enacted to adopt the current judicial system under the 2008 Constitution. The Bingham Center for the Rule of Law developed a Constitutional Awareness Booklet containing the key provisions of the current Myanmar Constitution and relevant areas in a simple manner.
The government of Myanmar is basically formed with the president, vice presidents, Ministers of the Union, and the Attorney General of the Union (Section 20, the 2008 Constitution). The executive power of the Union is distributed among the Union, regions, states, and self-administered areas as prescribed by the Constitution. The executive head is the president, who takes precedence over all other persons throughout the Union (Sections 58, 199, the 2008 Constitution). The president may appoint as well as dismiss the ministries of the Union government and designate the number of the Union ministers as necessary with the approval of the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (Sections 202, 232, 233, 234, and 235, the 2008 Constitution). He may further appoint the Attorney General of the Union to seek legal advice and assign duties on legal matters, with the approval of the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, and Deputy Attorney General to assist the Attorney General (Sections 237 and 239, the 2008 Constitution).
The region and state governments are formed respectively with the chief minister of the region or state; the ministers of the region or state; and the Advocate General of the region or state (Section 248(a) and (b), the 2008 Constitution). Generally, these region or state governments have the responsibility to assist the Union government in preserving the stability, peace, tranquillity, and prevalence of law and order of the Union (Section 250, the 2008 Constitution). The president appoints a hluttaw representative as the chief minister of the region or state concerned with the approval of the respective region or state hluttaw (Section 261(c), the 2008 Constitution).
To understand the state and region governments in Myanmar, see the Region or State Government Law, 2010. See the Asia Foundation’s report on state and region governments in Myanmar to understand the subnational governance institutions and central-local relations.
The administrative body of a self-administered division or self-administered zone is called the leading body (Section 275, the 2008 Constitution) which is comprised of at least ten members (Section 276(c), the 2008 Constitution). The president must appoint the person who is nominated as the chairperson of the self-administered division or zone concerned (Section 276(f), the 2008 Constitution). As for the administration of the Nay Pyi Taw Union Territory, the president must form a Nay Pyi Taw Council and appoint persons who have the qualifications prescribed in the 2008 Constitution as chairperson as well as members of Nay Pyi Taw Council (Sections 284 and 285, the 2008 Constitution). So far, five self-administered zones have been established in Naga, Pa'O, Pa Laung, Kokang, and Wa.
Myanmar's National League for Democracy (NLD), Aung San Su Kyi’s political party, won a landslide victory in the 2015 Myanmar general election. The post of State Counselor was created on April 6, 2016 for Aung San Su Kyi to allow her to play the greater role within the Government of Myanmar because the 2008 Constitution, which was written by the former military rulers and also guarantees the army a 25% bloc of seats, prevents her from becoming the President of Myanmar as her husband and her two children hold foreign nationality. The State Counselor Bill calling for the appointment of Aung San Su Kyi by name as the state counselor includes five chapters and eight articles, and it gives her the right to contact government ministries, departments, organizations, associations, and individuals for counsel. She is also accountable for her duty to the Union Parliament. The term of the Office of the Counselor is five years, which is the same as that of the president. The bill is aimed at ensuring a multi-party democratic system, a market-oriented economic system, a federal union, peace, and development in the country.
Part 2 of the Myanmar Oil & Gas Sector Wide Impact Assessment Report developed by the Myanmar Center for Responsible Business contains a discussion on the Government Structure & Legal Framework.
The legislative authority is vested in the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (The National Parliament) which comprises of the two hluttaws, namely the Pyithu Hluttaw (The People’s Assembly or House of Representatives) and the Amyotha Hluttaw (The National Assembly or Senate) (Section 74, the 2008 Constitution). Pyidaungsu Hluttaw makes laws, authorizes the government to spend public money, scrutinizes government activities, and is a forum for debate on national issues. The Pyithu Hluttaw is formed with a maximum of 440 seats and comprises of no more than 330 representatives elected on the basis of the township as well as population and no more than 110 representatives who are the Defence Services personnel nominated by the Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Services (Section 109, the 2008 Constitution). The Amyotha Hluttaw is formed with a maximum of 224 seats comprised of 168 representatives elected in equal numbers from regions as well as states and 56 representatives who are the Defence Services personnel nominated by the Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Services (Section 141, the 2008 Constitution).
The Pyidaungsu Hluttaw has the power to enact laws for the entire or any part of the Union related to matters prescribed in Schedule One of the Union Legislative List (Section 96, the 2008 Constitution). Other matters not enumerated in the legislative list of the Union, region, or state, and Self-Administered Division Leading Body or Self-Administered Zone Leading Body fall under the legislative power of the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (Section 98, the 2008 Constitution). It can also enact laws relating to the Union territories when it is necessary (Section 99, the 2008 Constitution).
Any Union-level executive body has the power to submit the bills relating to matters which they administered among the matters included in the Union Legislative List to the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw. However, bills relating to national plans, annual budgets, and taxation are required to submit exclusively to the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (Section 100, the 2008 Constitution). A bill submitted to the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, except those under the exclusive legislative power of the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, is still entitled to initiation and discussion at either the Pyithu Hluttaw or the Amyotha Hluttaw (Section 101, the 2008 Constitution).
If a bill initiated in the Pyithu Hluttaw or the Amyotha Hluttaw is approved by both Hluttaws, it shall be deemed that the bill is approved by the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw. If there is a disagreement between the Pyithu Hluttaw and the Amyotha Hluttaw concerning a bill, the bill shall be discussed and resolved in the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (Section 95, the 2008 Constitution).
A bill that is approved or deemed to be approved by the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw will then be sent to the president for his signature. He must send the bill back to the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw with his signature or comments within 14 days. If he does not do so within the prescribed period, the bill can be promulgated on the next day after the completion of that period, and thereby the bill will become a law (Section 105, the 2008 Constitution). When the president sends back the bill together with his comments within the prescribed period, the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw may accept his comment and resolve to amend the bill or to approve it as it is without accepting his comments. In either case, the bill will be sent back to him for his signature. If the bill is not signed by the president within seven days, it will become law as if he had signed it on the last day of the prescribed period (Section 106, the 2008 Constitution).
A bill signed by the president or deemed to have been signed will need to be published in the official gazette. Finally, the bill becomes a law on the day of the publication itself, nevertheless, without prejudice to the power of Parliament to postpone the operation of any law or to make laws with retrospective effect (Section 107, the 2008 Constitution).
The Pyidaungsu Hluttaw also has the power to resolve matters relating to ratifying, annulling, and revoking any international, regional, or bilateral treaties; and may confer the authority to the president to conclude, annul, or revoke any kind of said agreements without the approval from it (Section 107, the 2008 Constitution).
After the enactment of any rule, regulation, or bylaw by the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, the relevant executive body may distribute and submit the said legislation to its representatives of the Pyithu Hluttaw or the Amyotha Hluttaw, and thereby representatives may move to annul or amend the said legislation within 90 days from the day of submission and distribution. If there is any disagreement between the Pyithu Hluttaw and the Amyotha Hluttaw regarding the repeal or amendment of any legislation, it shall be submitted to the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (Sections 137 and 157, the 2008 Constitution).
A bill submitted by any Union-level organization is deemed to be initiated in the Pyithu Hluttaw and discussed as well as resolved in the Pyithu Hluttaw, if it is sent in accordance with the prescribed procedures of the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (Section 138 (a), the 2008 Constitution). If a bill submitted by any Union-level organization is sent to the Amyotha Hluttaw in accordance with prescribed procedures of the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, it shall be deemed that such a bill is initiated in the Amyotha Hluttaw and thus shall be discussed as well as resolved in the Amyotha Hluttaw (Section 158 (a), the 2008 Constitution). Bills relating to other matters, except the matters stated in the Schedule One of Union Legislative List where the bill shall be submitted and passed exclusively by the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, can be initiated in either the Pyithu Hluttaw or the Amyotha Hluttaw in accord with the prescribed procedures (Section 136 and 156, the 2008 Constitution). A bill passed by one house shall be sent to other house to continue to discuss and resolve it (Sections 138 (c) and 158 (c), the 2008 Constitution).
After receiving a bill sent to the other house, the house in which the bill is originated may resolve to agree or disagree or agree with amendments, and the bill shall be sent back to the other house together with its resolution. When the house in which the bill is originated accepts amendments made by the other house, it will send the bill to the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw. If there is any disagreement between two houses relating to a bill, it shall take the resolution of the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (Sections 139 and 159, the 2008 Constitution).
Each of the fourteen major administrative regions and states has its own hluttaw, namely, Region Hluttaw (Region Assembly) or State Hluttaw (State Assembly) (Sections 49 and 161, the 2008 Constitution). The region or state hluttaw has the power to enact laws for the entire or any part of the region or state related to matters prescribed in Schedule Two of the Region or State Hluttaw Legislative List (Section 188, the 2008 Constitution). However, any legislation made by the region or state hluttaw has to be in conformity with the Constitution and the relevant Union law (Section 89 (b), the 2008 Constitution).
4.4. Legislative Process in the Self-Administered Division and Self-Administered Zone Leading Bodies
Self-Administered Division or the Self-Administered Zone Leading Bodies are vested with the legislative power relating to the matters listed in Schedule Three for respective divisions or zones (Section 196, the 2008 Constitution).
Courts of the Union are established under the 2008 Constitution, and these include the Supreme Court of the Union, high courts of the region, high courts of the state, courts of the self-administered division, courts of the self-administered zone, district courts, township courts and the other courts constituted by law; courts-martial; and Constitutional Tribunal of the Union (Section 293, the 2008 Constitution). On October 28, 2010, the Union Judiciary Law (Hereinafter “The Union Judiciary Law 2010”) was enacted to implement judicial works of aforementioned courts in the present Judicial System (Preamble, the Union Judiciary Law 2010).
- The Judicial System and Court Proceedings in Myanmar - an informative presentation
- An Introduction to the Law and Judicial System of Myanmar
- Southeast Asian Legal Research Guide: Introduction to Myanmar & its Legal System
- National Chapter on Myanmar - contains information on the judiciary and legal system available on the website of Council of ASEAN Chief Justices.
The Supreme Court is the highest court of the Union without prejudice to the jurisdiction of the Constitutional Tribunal and the courts-martial (Section 294, the 2008 Constitution). It is the apex of the court system in Myanmar, which exists as an independent body “alongside the legislative and executive branches.” The court is situated in Nay Pyi Taw and headed by the chief justice of the Union. It may be appointed from a minimum of seven and a maximum of 11 judges of the Supreme Court, including the chief justice (Sections 299 (a) and (b), the 2008 Constitution). The president can appoint the chief justice and judges of the Supreme Court after seeking approval from the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, which has no right to refuse the person nominated by the president for the appointment unless it can clearly be proved that the persons do not meet the qualifications for the post (Sections 299 (c) and (d), the 2008 Constitution).
The Supreme Court has original jurisdiction in matters arising out of bilateral treaties concluded by the Union; in disputes, except constitutional issues, between the Union government and the region or state governments, or among the regions, among the states, between the region and the state, and between the union territory and a region or a state; piracy and other offences committed at the ground or international water or airspace by violating international law; and in other matters as prescribed by any law (Section 295(a), the 2008 Constitution; section 11, the Union Judiciary Law 2010). It has the appellate jurisdiction to decide judgments passed by the high courts of the regions or the states and judgments passed by the other courts in accord with the law (Section 295(d), the 2008 Constitution; Section 12, the Union Judiciary Law 2010). It also has the revisionary power over any judgment or order passed by any subordinate court (Section 295(e), the 2008 Constitution; Section 13, the Union Judiciary Law 2010) and the jurisdiction on confirming death sentence as well as an appeal against the death sentence (Section 14, the Union Judiciary Law 2010). It further has the jurisdiction to transfer a case from a court to itself or any other court (Section 15, the Union Judiciary Law 2010). It possesses the power to issue a writ of habeas corpus, writ of mandamus, writ of prohibition, writ of quo warranto, and writ of certiorari. However, this power to issue writs is suspended in the areas where the state of emergency is declared (Section 296, the 2008 Constitution; Section 16, the Union Judiciary Law 2010). The decisions of the Supreme Court are final as well as conclusive, and thus it is the final court of appeal in the entire Union (Section 295 (b) and (c), the 2008 Constitution; Sections 18 and 22, the Union Judiciary Law 2010).
A high court is established for every region and the state of the Union (Section 305, the 2008 Constitution). Each high court is headed by a chief justice. A minimum of three and a maximum of seven judges, including the chief justice, may be appointed (Section 308 (a), the 2008 Constitution). The president can appoint the chief justice and the judges of a high court, in co-ordination with the chief justice of the Union as well as the chief minister of the respective region or state, after seeking approval from the respective region or state Hluttaw which has no right to refuse the person nominated by the president for the appointment unless it can clearly be proved that the persons do not meet the qualifications for the post (Section 308 (b), the 2008 Constitution).
Every high court of a region or state has jurisdictions to adjudicate on the original case, appeal case, revision case, and other matters prescribed by any law (Section 308, the 2008 Constitution; Section 38, the Union Judiciary Law 2010). It has appellate jurisdiction on the judgements, decrees, and orders passed by all other subordinate courts (Section 39, the Union Judiciary Law 2010). It also has the power to supervise district courts as well as township courts in the region or state and courts of self-administered divisions as well as courts of self-administered zones if there are self-administered areas in the region or state (Section 314, the 2008 Constitution). It further has the jurisdiction to transfer a case from a court to itself or any other court within its respective region or state (Section 40, the Union Judiciary Law 2010). It has unlimited jurisdiction to hear and decide both criminal and civil suits.
Read more about the High Courts of the Region and High Courts of the State.
5.3. District Courts, Courts of the Self-Administered Division and Courts of the Self-Administered Zone
District courts, courts of the self-administered division, and courts of the self-administered zone have the jurisdiction to hear both criminal as well as civil cases, appeal cases, revision cases, and other matters prescribed by any law (Section 315, the 2008 Constitution; Sections 53 and 54, the Union Judiciary Law 2010). The respective high court of the region or state supervises the appointment of judges at this level of courts (Section 318(a), the 2008 Constitution). Judges at this level are granted the right to try serious criminal cases and civil suits not exceeding 500 million Kyats under original jurisdiction.
Township courts have the jurisdiction to try both criminal as well as civil cases and other matters prescribed by any law (Section 316, the 2008 Constitution; Section 56, the Union Judiciary Law 2010). The respective high court of the region or state supervises the appointment of judges at this level of courts (Section 318(a), the 2008 Constitution). These levels of courts are mainly courts of original jurisdiction. Judges at this level can pass a sentence of up to seven years imprisonment. They can try civil suits in which the amount in dispute or value of the subject matters is not exceeding 10 million kyats. They also exercise jurisdiction over juvenile cases.
The courts-martial are established under the 2008 Constitution in order to adjudicate Defence Services personnel (Section 319, the 2008 Constitution). Read Human Rights Watch and Al Jazeera news articles related to Myanmar’s court-martial.
The Constitutional Tribunal of the Union is formed with nine members: three members chosen by the president, three members chosen by the Speaker of the Pyithu Hluttaw, and three members chosen by the Speaker of the Amyotha Hluttaw. One member from among nine members is assigned as the chairperson (Sections 320, 321, the 2008 Constitution). Its essential functions are to interpret the provisions under the Constitution, decide constitutional disputes in the Union and review whether the laws promulgated are in conformity with the Constitution (Section 322, the 2008 Constitution). The president can appoint the chairperson and its members after seeking approval from Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, which has no right to refuse the persons nominated by the president for the appointment unless it can clearly be proved that they are disqualified for the post (Sections 327 and 328, the 2008 Constitution).
The president, the Speaker of the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, the Speaker of the Pyithu Hluttaw, the Speaker of the Amyotha Hluttaw, the Chief Justice of the Union, and the Chairperson of the Union Election Commission have the right to submit any constitutional matter to the Constitutional Tribunal and seek for the interpretation, resolution, and opinion (Section 325, the 2008 Constitution). Besides, the chief minister of the region or state, the speaker of the region or state hluttaw, the chairperson of the self-administered division or self-administered zone leading body, and representatives numbering at least ten percent of all the representatives of the Pyithu Hluttaw or the Amyotha Hluttaw may also have the right to submit constitutional matters to the Constitutional Tribunal in accordance with the prescribed procedures and obtain the interpretation, resolution, and opinion (Section 326, the 2008 Constitution). A court that submits any case involving constitutional issue to the Constitutional Tribunal in accordance with the prescribed procedures for its opinion must stay in the trial until it receives such a resolution. In addition, its resolution is final and conclusive (Section 323, the 2008 Constitution).
There are also other courts with specific jurisdiction, namely, juvenile courts to try offences committed by minors, municipal courts to try municipal offences, and motor vehicle courts to try road traffic offences.
In terms of hierarchy, township courts and other courts are courts of the first instance; district courts, courts of the self-administered division, and courts of the self-administered zone are courts of the first appeal; the high courts of the regions and states are courts of the second appeal; and the Supreme Court is the court of final appeal.
See the following for more information:
- Judicial System and Court Proceeding in Myanmar
- Commission, Pyidaungsu Hluttaw and Constitution
- Strategic Litigation Handbook for Myanmar (International Commission of Jurists) – on strategic litigation which is also referred to as “public interest litigation,” “impact litigation,” “test case litigation,” or “community lawyering”
Sources of law in Myanmar comprise of constitutions, parliament enacted legislation, customary law, and English common law. English common law rules, developed and adopted in Myanmar case law during the British occupation, are applied where there is an absence of local legislation governing a particular matter before the courts. Moreover, judges are granted discretionary power to decide the matter in accordance with justice, equity, and good conscience in the absence of any applicable law.
Any law, rule, regulation, or bylaw passed by the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw and signed by the president or deemed to have been signed are published in the Myanma Naingngan Pyantan (Myanmar Gazette). The Gazette is published by the News and Periodicals Enterprise (NPE) under the Ministry of Information of Myanmar.
Among all decided cases from the superior courts, some are selected by the conjoint selection board, which comprises of judges from the Supreme Court of the Union and the Deputy Attorney General as well as the Director-General from the Union Attorney General’s Office, in order to be published in the annual law report published by the Supreme Court of the Union. Cases decided by the Supreme Court of the Union are published on its official website (see Ruling).
The Burma Code is a collection of Myanmar’s laws enacted and in force from the year 1939 to 1951. The Code is a combination of 13 volumes (Volumes I-XIII) covering the list of legislation enacted since the British Colonial period. The general year-wise index to the Burma Code is also available.
See the following for more information:
- Myanmar Law Information System provides information on existing legislation in Myanmar including the previous and current constitution, region or state laws, self-administered zone laws, etc.
- Myanmar Law Library - Laws and Regulations
- List of Myanmar Laws, 2010 - published by Union Attorney General’s Office and available in English
- World Law Guide - contains the English texts of some Myanmar laws
- Rule of Law and Commercial Litigation
- USAID report on Access to Justice and Administrative Law in Myanmar
- Report of the International Center for Transitional Justice Report on Navigating Paths to Justice in Myanmar’s Transition (June, 2014)
- Country Profile on Myanmar by the Centre for the Independence of Judges and Lawyers of International Commission of Jurists
- Constitutional Options for Safeguarding the Rule of Law in Public Administration
- Litigation and Enforcement in Myanmar from the global guide to dispute resolution
- Administrative and Criminal Justice Measures for Preventing Corruption in Myanmar
- Combating Corruption Through Effective Criminal Justice Authorities
- Myanmar’s national chapter on anti-corruption compliance - published as a part of the Asia-Pacific Investigation Review 2017
- International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute report on the Rule of Law in Myanmar Challenges and Prospects
- Women’s Right under Myanmar Customary Law
- Modes of Divorce under Myanmar Customary Law
- Official translation of the Myanmar Investment Law 2016
- Overview of investment related laws and rules
- Copyright Law in Myanmar
- Provisional translation of the Myanmar Trademark Law 2019.
Legal professionals comprise of judges, judicial officers, and lawyers. Lawyers can be classified into two types, namely advocates and pleaders. An advocate is entitled to appear before any court and tribunal in the Union, whereas a pleader is licensed to practice only before subordinate courts. Pleaders are subdivided into further categories: ordinary pleaders, who handle criminal matters and low-level civil disputes and higher-grade pleaders, who can take on all types of cases. Criminal prosecutions are conducted by law officers based in regional offices all over the country. All are subject to the direction of the Attorney General, whose powers and duties are described in the Attorney General of the Union Law of 2010. Legal practitioners are governed by the Legal Practitioners Act 1879 and the Bar Council Act 1926.
Universities in Myanmar offer a Degree of Bachelor of Laws (LL. B) (five-year program), Degree of Master of Laws (LL.M) (two-year program), Degree of Master of Research (M.Res) (one-year program), and Degree of Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D) (five-year program).
See Myanmar Education Research and Learning Portal, which is a project of the Myanmar Rectors’ Committee, National Education Policy Commission, Department of Higher Education, the Ministry of Education, with support from EIFL (Electronic Information for Libraries) and the National Institute of Informatics, Japan. The Portal provides free and open access to research publications (from international and local journals, theses, conference papers, etc.) and teaching and learning materials from various Universities in Myanmar.
Myanmar’s legal system is predominantly influenced by the common law system since it was under the British colony for more than 100 years. The common law system was originated in the United Kingdom that is usually referred to as the mother of common law countries. As far as the application of international law in the domestic legal system is concerned, the common law countries’ practice is dualist in nature where Myanmar is one of such countries.
According to Article 38 (1) of the Statute of the International Court of Justice, there are two primary sources of international law, i.e., international treaties and customary law. For dualist countries, international law, particularly treaties are not directly applicable domestically. The legislative body or the parliament must implement international law by passing domestic legislation in order for the international treaty to have a domestic effect. However, there may be situations where customary international law principles such as the jus cogens norms can be automatically applied in the domestic legal context even without the enactment of any parliamentary legislation.
Myanmar is a party to several multilateral treaties including the UN Charter and human rights treaties such as the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women; the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocols; and the Genocide Convention.There is yet no official platform at the national level that provides for the complete and updated list of International Treaties to which Myanmar is a party. However, the ratification status of Myanmar to various human rights treaties is available on the official portal of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. For the updated list of other UN treaties that have been signed, ratified, or accessed by Myanmar, the official UN Treaty Collection can be consulted. Some other documents having international law implications can be found on the web portal of the UN Official Document System and the Online Burma/Myanmar Library.
- Myanmar’s Binding Obligations under International Law
- Burma Link, Burma and International law (updated October 27, 2014)
- International Court of Justice page on Application of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (The Gambia v. Myanmar).
- International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea Dispute concerning Delimitation of the Maritime Boundary Between Bangladesh and Myanmar in the Bay of Bengal, 2012.
- Private International Law in Myanmar, written by Adrian Briggs and published by the Oxford University Press
- Myanmar National Portal
- Ministry of President Office
- Ministry of Union Government Office General Administration Department
- Ministry of Border Affairs
- Ministry of Construction
- Ministry of Defence
- Ministry of Education
- Ministry of Electricity and Energy
- Ministry of Ethnic Affairs
- Ministry of Foreign Affairs
- Ministry of Health and Sports
- Ministry of Hotels and Tourism
- Ministry of Information
- Ministry of Planning, Finance and Industry
- Ministry of Labour, Immigration and Population
- Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation
- Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture
- Ministry of the State Counsellor
- Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement
- Ministry of Transport and Communications
- Myanmar Port Authority
- Union Attorney General’s Office
- Anti-Corruption Commission
- Myanmar Constitutional Tribunal Office
- Union Election Commission
- Office of the Commander-in-Chief of Defence Services
- Office of the Auditor General of the Union
- Myanmar National Human Rights Commission
- Asia Foundation page on Myanmar
- Asian Legal Information Institute: Myanmar
- Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Burma
- Facts and Details Page on Myanmar
- Human Rights of Parliamentarians
- International Religious Freedom Reports: Burma
- International Treaties Adherence: Myanmar
- NATLEX: Myanmar
- Permanent Mission of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar to the United Nations Office and Other International Organizations in Geneva, Switzerland
- The World Law Guide
- University of Sydney Page on Myanmar Laws
- Griffith University’s A Select Bibliography of Burma (Myanmar) since the 1988 uprising.
- UNDP Page on Myanmar
- World Legal Information Institute: Myanmar
- International Commission of Jurists Country Page on Myanmar
- Legal Information Institute Page on Myanmar
- OECD Investment Policy Reviews: Myanmar 2020
- The World Bank of Myanmar
- Oxford Business Group’s Foreign Investment Overview for Myanmar
- Invest Myanmar
- Online Burma/Myanmar library
 See, Andrew Huxley, “The Importance of the Dhammathats in Burmese Law and Culture,” vol. 1, The Journal of Burma Studies (1997) pp. 1-17; Andrew Huxley, “Pre-colonial Burmese Law: Conical hat and shoulder bag,” Newsletter, Issue 25, International Institute for Asian Studies (Leiden) (October 2001); Nyo Nyo Thinn, “The Legal System in Myanmar and the Foreign Legal Assistance,” Law and Development Forum (2006) pp. 389-393.
 See, Nyo Nyo Thinn, pp. 393-394.
 See, Tun Shin, “As Myanmar belongs to the Common Law Legal System family, Myanmar Judicial System is deeply rooted with legal maxims, judicial customs and precedents which are enshrined with International Legal Principles that are utilized by successive judges all over the world,” vol. XX, No. 296, The New Light of Myanmar (10 February 2013) pp. 1 and 8.
 See, Andrew Huxley, “The Last Fifty Years of Burmese Law: E Maung and Maung Maung,” LawAsia (1998) pp. 9-20; Nyo Nyo Thinn, pp. 395-396.
 Liam Cochrane, Aung San Suu Kyi to Become 'State Counsellor' of Myanmar, ABCNet News (Apr. 5, 2016).
 Article 61 (a) of the Constitution of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar 2008.
 Aung San Su Kyi Becomes Myanmar State Counselor: Spokeman (Apr. 6, 2016).
 See, Htun Htun Oo, “Current Development of Judicial System in Myanmar,” Judicial Journal (28th November 2012) p. 3.
 See, Nang Yin KHAM, An Introduction to the Law and Judicial System of Myanmar, NUS Centre for Asian Legal Studies Working Paper 14/02. accessed on 30 May 2017.