22 July 2013

The relationship between traditional and modern legal systems in Pacific island nations will be the focus research by a University of Queensland Law professor.

UQ’s Professor Jennifer Corrin will play a key role in a $2,000,000 global research project designed to resolve social, economic and environmental issues created by conflicts between traditional and modern legal systems in Canada, Africa and the South Pacific.

Professor Corrin is co-investigator in the five-year ‘State and Indigenous Legal Cultures: Law in Search of Legitimacy’ project’, led by the University of Ottawa and involving researchers from 14 universities in seven countries.

“Many countries are struggling with an inheritance of legal pluralism that recognises both the formal written law and indigenous customary laws,” she said.

The term ‘legal pluralism’ refers to the co-existence of different legal systems within one social field.

“We hope to identify practical measures to achieve law reform and legal development to accommodate both types of laws.

“In the South Pacific, the problem poses urgent challenges today, especially in sensitive areas such as access to land and natural resources, and family life, including youth protection, criminal affairs and human rights,” she said.

“This research aims to find transferable lessons and solutions to the problems which arise from pluralism by devising avenues of reform which take account of both systems of law and result in effective, legitimate and locally resonant legal systems.”

The project includes a number of Indigenous contributors who have identified the research priority as the relationship between indigenous customary and state law in the areas of justice, family and land.

“It is very exciting to have the opportunity to work with such a prestigious and diverse international team to examine this neglected area of law,” Professor Corrin said.

Professor Corrin is a member of the project’s Pacific Group which will focus on the laws of the small South Pacific island states.

The research will create opportunities for students at the TC Beirne School of Law, as a research higher degree student will be recruited for the project and undergraduate law students can apply to take part through the 2013 UQ Summer Research Program.

The project is led by University of Ottawa law Professor Ghislain Otis, and has received $A1.99m funding from Canada’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Partnerships Grants program and smaller amounts from the University of Ottawa and the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Media: Professor Jennifer Corrin, TC Beirne School of Law, 07 3365 2295, j.corrin@law.uq.edu.au, or Melissa Reynolds, 07 3365 2523, m.reynolds@law.uq.edu.au