Amid challenges to the prevailing international order from the likes of Russia and China, 2022 Tang Prize in Rule of Law winner Cheryl Saunders said effective cross-disciplinary collaboration and well-crafted state and sub-state institutions will be vital going forward.
“We really need to think very hard about the institutions we’re using, and try and shape them for the demands of the 21st century,” Saunders told CNA in a recent interview in Australia.
“It’s quite clear that as the world goes forward, we’re going to need to collaborate effectively on all sorts of things,” said Saunders, a laureate professor emeritus at the University of Melbourne and constitutional law expert.
Over the last few years, the world has been roiled by the COVID-19 pandemic and the conflict in Ukraine, both of which, alongside other challenges, have led to deep concerns about the future of democracy, the Australian law professor said.
“It’s clear that nothing’s going to actually happen unless it’s done within the states, by governments within states, and at the sub-state level … And that is going to require collaboration across these disciplinary or sub-disciplinary boundaries,” Saunders said.
Many of the institutions that are still in use today were devised for a 19th-century conception of the world, Saunders said.
There is a need for “moderniz[ing] our systems for the circumstance of the 21st century,” Saunders said, adding that input from young people will also be crucial.
“Democracies can learn a lot from each other … and then it’s not going to get rid of the Soviet Unions or the People’s Republic of Chinas of its world, but it will undoubtedly be a genuinely competitive force,” she added.
On Tuesday, Saunders received the Tang Prize in Rule of Law for her “pioneering contributions to comparative public law, in particular, her work on constitution-building in the Asia-Pacific region,” according to the Tang Prize Foundation, which has organized the biennial award since 2012.
The Asia-Pacific region is characterized by its ethnic diversity, large population, and complex historical, cultural, and political systems, said Chang Wen-chen (???), a professor at National Taiwan University’s College of Law, at the award announcement event in Taipei Tuesday.
“Professor Saunders was really one of the very first scholars to be engaged in all these difficult challenges with her leadership [and] with the organizations she led,” Chang said.
Saunders, born in 1944 in Quetta, British India, said she had always been interested in history and politics, which led to her eventually delving into constitutional studies while reading law at the University of Melbourne.
The 77-year-old law scholar and educator began her academic career in Australian constitutional law but later expanded her expertise to comparative constitutional law.
Over the past four decades, Saunders has taught at her alma mater, the University of Melbourne, but has also held several visiting positions at universities across the globe, including the University of Cambridge.
Her contributions to law and public administration have been recognized by such awards as the Officer of the Order of Australia in 1994 and the Centenary Medal in 2003.
Beginning in the 1990s, Saunders has had some involvement in aspects of constitutional design in countries such as South Africa, Fiji, Zimbabwe, East Timor, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, and Iraq.
But Saunders said she would not overstate her role in the design of constitutional arrangements of these countries, as such work required collective effort, especially the input of local knowledge.
“You do need to work with the people in the country concerned … [You] do not go in with the program and say now I’m going to tell them about decentralization or organizing executive power. What do they really need to know? What do they really want to know and why?”
She admitted that the most difficult part of her work was understanding local needs as well as unique historical, political, and cultural conditions and responding accordingly.
As an example of such diversity, Saunders notes the contrast between Taiwan’s gradual reformation of a decadeslong one-party authoritarian system in the late 1980s, and rapid “Big Bang” moment-type transitions that took place in countries such as the United States and France.
Another challenge for comparative constitutional legal scholars is “to recognize what a big place the world is from the standpoint of comparative constitutional law,” Saunders said.
Much of the scholarship in the field was concentrated on a relatively small number of countries, Saunders said, recalling encountering from time to time a comparative work in which the discussion of all the Asian countries was subsumed into just one category.
“They ought to really expand their horizons,” and try and think about the complexity of a world in which there are at least 200 states, Saunders said.
Despite challenges, Saunders said she found her work in constitutional design “terribly satisfying and very interesting.”
“It’s very fulfilling in working on those sorts of issues … It’s a field that you can never entirely conquer,” she said.
Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel