Constitutions workshop illustrates the battle between law and society

13 December 2010

The latest workshop in the FLJS series examining the social and political foundations of constitutions was held on Saturday 11th December at the Ashmolean Museum, where experts from the US, UK, and Russia came together to investigate the Egyptian, Micronesian and Russian constitutional experience.

Clark Lombardi began proceedings by demonstrating how the ambiguities inherent in the Egyptian constitution, which in the 1971 drafting, attempted to incorporate a generally secular approach with aspects of Islamic law, had enabled the government to move in a more authoritarian direction. Interestingly, this development, he argued, resulted in the largely liberal judiciary forming an unlikely alliance with the popular Islamist organizations, specifically over Article 2, in which Islamization provisions and liberal jurisprudence coalesced.

The cancellation of flights due to adverse weather had prevented Brian Tamanaha from travelling to the workshop, but he was able to make his presentation on the constitution of Yap (an island in Micronesia) thanks to a video link-up. Although ostensibly an obscure constitution to focus upon, Profesor Tamanaha ably demonstrated how the Yapesian struggle, since the 1975 Constitutional Convention, to keep customs and traditions on the same standing as any constitutionally imposed Bill of Rights, perfectly illustrates the battle between law and society that dominates much socio-legal enquiry.

Professor Tamanaha's paper served as a counterpoint and interesting precedent to Denis Galligan's more general essay on the role of 'the People' in any constitution, and the concept of the 'organic constitution', wherein the beliefs and values of the society are primary to any such values enshrined in a written document. Professor Galligan argued that the corporate idea of 'the People' derived from Sieyes, and encapsulated in constitutions worldwide, fails to account for the diversty of modern societies, and this may go some way to explain why  people largely take such a low view of the governmental and administrative agencies that are supposed to serve as their means of representation.

The day was bought to a conclusion with a paper on the Russian Constitution by Alexei Trochev, who examined the conflict between the Supreme and Constitutional court rulings and the role of the executive under both Yeltsin and Putin. He concluded that the constitution had been a partial success, in that, whilst it had been required to make political compromises, the prevailing jurisprudence was one of equality and fairnesss in relation to the protection of citizens' rights.

A workshop programme and participant profiles are available to download from the links on the right. Further workshops in this series are planned for March and June 2011. To receive updates about future events in the programme, click on the button below to subscribe to our RSS events newsfeed: