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Southeast Asian Legal Research Guide: Case Law

Finding Cases

Until independence in 1948, the Lower Burma Rulings (1900-1922), the Upper Burma Rulings (1892-1922), and the Rangoon Law Reports (from 1937-1942 and 1946-1947) were the major law reports. Since 1948, the Burma / Myanmar Law Reports are the major publication of significant Myanmar court decisions.

Until 1922 the courts in respect of which official reports were produced were the Chief Court in Rangoon, the Court of the Judicial Commissioner in Mandalay and the High Court in Rangoon. At independence in 1948, the Burma Law Reporting Council took responsibility for publishing the Burma Law Reports. Until 1962 the Law Reports consisted of the decisions of the Supreme Court and High Court. The Burma Law Reports from 1962 to 1973 include volumes of decisions of the Chief Court – the new apex court formed from the merging of the Supreme Court and High Court – the Courts-Martial Appeal Court, and the newly-established Special Criminal Courts’ Appeal Court. From 1974 to 1988 the Burma Law Reports published decisions of the Central Court, which superseded the Chief Court, and, after 1988, of the revamped Supreme Court.

The following law reports are available online from the Myanmar Law Library database (open access). All are pdf replicas of the original print reports.

Note that since 1970, reports are in Burmese only.

AsianLII - Myanmar includes all the Burma Law Reports in English ie: from 1947 - 1969. These cases are linked to LawCite, a worldwide case citator, so you can see cases cited in the decisions and cases citing the decisions.

The Submissions and Decisions database on the website of the Constitutional Tribunal of the Union of Myanmar contains the decisions of the Tribunal. To date it has heard few cases. some decisions are in English only, others in Burmese only.

Judicial Independence

See:

Melissa Crouch, 'Judicial Power in Myanmar and the Challenge of Judicial Independence' in HP Lee and Marilyn Pittard (ed) Asia-Pacific Judiciaries: Independence, Impartiality and Integrity (CUP, 2017)

Abstract: What can be learnt about the idea and ideal of judicial independence in authoritarian regimes? While idealised international standards and declarations of judicial independence note the need for separation from the executive, there is more often silence on the relative position of the courts in relation to the military. Yet in country’s like Myanmar’s semi-military regime (2011-), discussions of judicial independence from the executive and legislature make little sense unless we first consider separation from military rule. Military involvement in the courts, both at a personal and institutional level, has become the norm over past decades in Myanmar. In light of this reality, this chapter considers the nature of judicial power of the Constitutional Tribunal and Supreme Court. It highlights debates raised over appointment and removal procedures, questions over which court should have jurisdiction on constitutional review matters, concerns of military-executive interference and the domineering attitude of the Parliament towards the courts. As a recent yellow ribbon campaign protesting against military transfers into the courts highlights, independence of the courts from military influence is a necessary yet difficult first step forward.

Myanmar Supreme Court in the capital city Naypyidaw.

Court System

In present-day Myanmar, the judicial system is established under the 2008 Constitution and the 2010 Union Judiciary Law.

Courts are divided into three systems, as provided for in the Constitution: civilian court system, the Constitutional Tribunal, and the Courts-Martial.

  1. The civilian court system's hierarchy comprise the following courts: the Supreme Court, 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 other courts established by law.
  2. The Constitutional Tribunal of the Union of Myanmar was established in 2011. Its role is to adjudicate constitutional issues, and it acts as the final authority on matters of constitutional interpretation.
  3. The Courts-Martial are a separate set of courts and adjudicate all crimes committed by the military. Pursuant to the Constitution, courts-martial are outside the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court.

For more detailed information on the court and judicial system, see the following open access articles and book chapters: