In the Absence of the Rule of Law: Everyday Lawyering, Dignity and Resistance in Myanmar’s ‘Disciplined Democracy’

This article explores how ‘everyday’ lawyers undertaking routine criminal defence cases navigate an authoritarian legal system. Based on original fieldwork in the ‘disciplined democracy’ of Myanmar, the article examines how hegemonic state power and a functional absence of the rule of law have created a culture of passivity among ordinary practitioners. ‘Everyday’ lawyers are nonetheless able to uphold their clients’ dignity by practical and material support for the individual human experience and in so doing, subtly resist, evade or disrupt state power. The article argues for a multilayered understanding of dignity going beyond lawyers’ contributions to their clients’ legal autonomy. Focusing on dignity provides an alternative perspective to the otherwise often all-consuming rule of law discourse. In authoritarian legal systems, enhancing their clients’ dignity beyond legal autonomy may be the only meaningful contribution that ‘everyday’ lawyers can make.