British rule came to Burma in three stages: in 1824 when the lower maritime areas were taken by conquest; in 1852 when territory further north was seized and ‘Lower Burma’ became ‘British Burma’; in 1885 when Upper Burma was annexed and the entire country consolidated as a province of the British Indian empire.


British Rule Judicial Interpretation Privy Council Good Conscience District Magistrate 
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  1. 1.
    John Cady, A History of Modern Burma, Cornell University Press, 1958; F. S. V. Donnison, Public Administration in Burma, London, 1953; Maung Maung, Burma in the Family of Nations, Amsterdam, 1957; Dorothy Woodman, The Making of Burma, London, 1962.Google Scholar
  2. 1.
    Hugh Tinker, “A Short Survey of Burmese History,” The Guardian, English-language monthly magazine, Rangoon, December, 1961.Google Scholar
  3. 1.
    J. S. Furnivall, “The Fashioning of the Leviathan,” JBRS, April, 1939; Sangermano had this to say at page 86 of his book on the expeditious disposal of cases under the Kings: “In civil causes, lawsuits are terminated much more expeditiously than is generally the case in our part of the world, provided always that the litigants are not rich; for then the affair is extremely long, and sometimes never concluded at all. I was myself acquainted with two rich European merchants and shipmasters, who ruined themselves so completely by a lawsuit, that they became destitute of the common necessities of life, and the lawsuit withal was not decided, nor ever will be.”Google Scholar
  4. 1.
    H. N. C. Stevenson, The Central Chin Tribes, Bombay, 1943.Google Scholar
  5. 2.
    The First Interim Report of the Administration Reorganization Committee, Rangoon, 1949; Sir Charles Croswaite, The Pacification of Burma, London, 1912.Google Scholar
  6. 1.
    “There can never be two sets of law, one for those within and one for those outside the ruling party; whoever breaks the law must take the consequences. I myself, though Prime Minister, and president of the party, cannot escape punishment if I commit acts df lawlessness.” So said U Nu in a broadcast talk on March 12, 1948, soon after independence, when elements of the party broke up printing presses of newspapers which had offended them. Towards Peace and Democracy, speeches of U Nu, Rangoon, 1949.Google Scholar
  7. 2.
    Chamber of Deputies, Proceedings, April 5, 1960, reproduced in English translation in Burma, 13th. anniversary number, Rangoon, 1961.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Lim Lyam Hwat vs. Secretary, Home Ministry, 1960 BLR 128 sc.Google Scholar
  9. 1.
    Burma Reforms Committee, Record of Evidence, II, p. 73, Rangoon, 1922.Google Scholar
  10. 2.
    E. C. V. Foucar, I Lived in Burma, London, 1956, pp. 24–25.Google Scholar
  11. 8.
    E. g. debate in the Chamber of Deputies, September 21, 1955, Proceedings, vol. 8 no. 22, pp. 1475-1489, on law revision, and the Government’s emphasis on its observance of the “rule of law”.Google Scholar
  12. 4.
    Furnivall in foreword to Burma’s Constitution, by Maung Maung, The Hague, 1961.Google Scholar
  13. 1.
    The First Interim Report, Administration Reorganization Committee, Bo Khin Gale’s note of dissent.Google Scholar
  14. 2.
    A. Whitney Griswold, Liberal Education & the Democratic Society, Yale, 1959, chapter on The Basis of a Rule of Law.Google Scholar
  15. 1.
    Ma Hnin Bwin vs. U Shwe Gon.Google Scholar
  16. 2.
    Thus, for example, in an early case where the question was whether a Muhammedan was guilty of adultery, the opinions of leading Muhammedan moulvies in Rangoon were sought and texts on Buddhism read, to reach the decision that there was no adultery for there was no valid marriage with the Buddhist woman, who did not have a heavenly or revealed religion and a kitab, and did not believe in one God, but only in Nirvana, the ‘perfect peace, goodness and wisdom’. Printed Judgements, Judicial Commissioner for Lower Burma, Rangoon, 1905, p. 607.Google Scholar
  17. 1.
    Preface to Wagaru Dhammathat, Rangoon, 1892.Google Scholar
  18. 2.
    Notes on Buddhist Law, III, p. i.Google Scholar
  19. 3.
    ibid., II, p. 4.Google Scholar
  20. 4.
    Ma Le vs. Ma Pauk Pin, quoted in Chan Toon’s Principles of Buddhist Law.Google Scholar
  21. 1.
    A. Gledhill, Burmese Law in the 19th. Century, a paper made available by the author.Google Scholar
  22. 1.
    E Maung, J., in Ma Thin vs. Maung Sei Tin, 1949 BLR 74 S. C.; Donnison, Public Administration in Burma; Eggar, Laws of India; H. Cowell, Constitution of Courts in India, Tagore Law Lectures, Calcutta, 1872, pp. 243-246; In re. Ma Mya vs. Ma Thein, 4. Ran. 313, F. B.Google Scholar
  23. 2.
    M. C. Setalvad, The Common Law in India, London, 1960, pp. 23 and 27.Google Scholar
  24. 3.
    Furnivall, Colonial Policy and Practice, New York, 1956, p. 135.Google Scholar
  25. 4.
    First Interim Report of the Administration Reorganization Committee.Google Scholar
  26. 1.
    As Viscount Kilmur, Lord Chancellor of England, learned from his meetings with lawyers from all over the world, “in every kind of civilization the pursuit of justice is instinctive and a legal system which gives this instinct freedom to express itself has an inherent strength which is not easily destroyed.” “Migration of the Common Law.” Law Quarterly Review, January, 1960.Google Scholar
  27. 2.
    Ba U, J., in Daw Thike vs. Cyoung Ah Lin, 1951 BLR 133 S. C.Google Scholar
  28. 1.
    Burma Gazette, December 16, 1961. The Burma Laws Act, 1898, vested powers in the administration of civil and criminal justice in the Shan States in each chief of the state concerned, and a relinquishment of the hereditary powers by the chiefs in 1959, required the passage of The Burma Laws (Shan State) (Amendment) Act, 1959, to fill the gap. The States Courts Act, 1953, aims at providing a uniform system of administration of justice throughout the Union, but before it can come into full operation, the relinquishment of powers by the chiefs created a vacuum which had to be filled by the Act of 1961.Google Scholar
  29. 1.
    See footnote 2 on page 27.Google Scholar
  30. 2.
    Queen Emperor vs. Nga Ne U, 1883, in Moyles, Criminal Circulars, Lower Burma, 1872–1892, Rangoon, vol. 1, p. 838.Google Scholar
  31. 3.
    Queen Emperor vs. Nga Chain, 1883, Moyles, p. 902.Google Scholar
  32. 1.
    Circular memorandum 27 of 1881, Moyles, pp. 606-609.Google Scholar
  33. 2.
    U Pyinnya & Others vs. Maung Law, 7 Ran. 677, F. B.Google Scholar
  34. 3.
    E Maung, J., in Dr. Tha Mya vs. Daw Khin Pu.Google Scholar
  35. 1.
    Dr. Ba U, My Burma, p. 112.Google Scholar
  36. 2.
    E Maung, J., in Dr. Tha Mya vs. Khin Pu.Google Scholar
  37. 1.
    Maung Maung, “The Search for Constitutionalism in Burma,” Indian Yearbook of International Affairs, Madras, 1960.Google Scholar
  38. 2.
    ibid. Also in Chamber of Deputies proceedings February 27, 1957, in which opposition members, in demanding longer sessions and more opportunity to debate, pointed out that between 1947 and 1956, a total of 660 Acts were passed in 600 days of effective sitting.Google Scholar
  39. 3.
    An advisory committee headed by Dr. Ba U, one-time Chief Justice, and a former President of the Union, was appointed in April, 1960, soon after a new Government took office, and gave its views on subjects ranging from revision of mining regulations to the establishment of new states in the Union.Google Scholar
  40. 1.
    Section 148 of the constitution erects the High Court and the Supreme Court as ‘courts of record’; s. 152 makes ‘the law declared by the Supreme Court… binding on… all courts within… the Union’ in so far as it is applicable. A scale of weightage is in use for measuring the binding force of decisions. “Decisions of Their Lordships of the Privy Council on all Courts of the Province, decisions of the Full Bench of the High Court on all Courts, decisions of the Benches of the High Court on all single Judges and all inferior Courts, and decisions of single Judges on all inferior Courts…” In re. Ma Mya vs. Ma Thein, 4 Ran. 313, F. B. This scale is valid today, with the substitution of the Supreme Court for the Privy Council.Google Scholar
  41. 2.
    U Htwe vs. U Tun Ohn & One, 1948 BLR 541, S. C.Google Scholar
  42. 3.
    U Saw Han vs. U Ohn Khin & 3 Others, 1959 BLR 24, S. C.Google Scholar
  43. 4.
    s. 222 (1) defines ‘existing law’ as “any law, Ordinance, byelaw, rule or regulation passed or made before the commencement of this Constitution by any legislature, authority or person in any territories included within the Union of Burma being a legislature, authority or person having power to make such law, Ordinance, Order, byelaw, rule or regulation…”Google Scholar
  44. 1.
    Tinsa Maw Naing vs. The Commissioner of Police, Rangoon, 1950 BLR 17, S. C.Google Scholar
  45. 2.
  46. 1.
    The King vs. Maung Hmin, 1946 RLR 1 S. B.Google Scholar
  47. 2.
    ibid. Also, Maung Hla Maung vs. Ko Maung Maung, 1947 RLR 1 F. B.; U San Wa vs. U Ba Thin, 1947 RLR 78 F. B.; E Maung, “Enemy Legislation and Judgements in Burma,” 30 Journal of Comparative Legislation & International Law, 1948.Google Scholar
  48. 3.
    Ko Maung Tin vs. UGon Man, 1947 RLR 149 F. B.; Dr. Chan Taik vs. A. M. Dooply, 1948 BLR 454, also in Annual Digest of Reports of International Law Cases, 1948, p. 576.Google Scholar
  49. 1.
    Chettiar vs. Chettiar, 1948 BLR 278, also 1948 Annual Digest, p. 537. The High Court in this case also noted the observations of the Supreme Court of the Occupation, in civil reference 2 of 1943, that “the national character of Burma and its people remains as it was before; consequently British Indian subjects living either in Burma or India cannot be treated as ‘alien enemies’ of this country.”Google Scholar
  50. 2.
    Chettiar vs. Chettiar, 1949 BLR 56, S. C., also in 1948 Annual Digest, p. 537.Google Scholar
  51. 3.
    Ramaswamy Iyengar vs. Velayudhan Chettiar, 1952 BLR 25 S. C., also in 1956 Annual Digest, p. 754.Google Scholar
  52. 1.
    S. 214 reads: “No international agreement as such shall be part of the municipal law of the Union, save as may be determined by the Parliament.” Burma was a party to the Geneva Convention on Diplomatic Immunities, and appropriate legislation will incorporate it into municipal law, as has been done with the agreement to extend privileges and immunities to personnel of the United Nations.Google Scholar
  53. 2.
    E. T. Kovtunenko vs. U Law Yone, 1960 BLR 51 S.C., judgement rendered on March 1, 1960. The Government did finally enter a nolle prosequi, but previous to that the Prime Minister himself, at the request of the Soviet Government, let Kovtunenko leave the country on humanitarian grounds, as he pleaded illness. A citizen filed a charge that the Prime Minister was guilty of harbouring an offender, and when the charge was dismissed in the lower court, went up to the High Court, and finally the Supreme Court which pointed out that there was no intention to harbour, and “the action of the Prime Minister was the action of the Government as a whole, performed in the normal relations with a sovereign State. No act of State is justiciable and if there is real basis for an indictment against the Government it should be ventilated in the proper forum, the Parliament.” The Guardian, English language newspaper, Rangoon, December 6, 1961.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Martinus Nijhoff, The Hague, Netherlands 1963

Authors and Affiliations

  • Maung Maung
    • 1
  1. 1.Lincoln’s InnUK

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