Bridges Across Borders South-East Asia Community Legal Education (‘BABSEACLE’) 2018 External Clinic while staying in beautiful Chiang Mai, Thailand. I was given this opportunity by James Cook University as part of the New Colombo Plan, an Australian Government initiative that helps students to study and undertake internships in the Indo-Pacific region.

BABSEACLE 2018 Externship Clinic participants visit Chiang Mai University. Photo credit: BABSEACLE.

BABSEACLE is an access to justice organisation that provides community legal education on a broad range of issues to poor and marginalised groups in South-East Asian countries. These initiatives help vulnerable people to  learn  about  the  rights  that  they  are  entitled  to  and  how  to  enforce  those  rights.

Community  legal  education  also  teaches  people  about  their  responsibilities  under  the  law,  so  that  they  can  minimise adverse interactions with the authorities and justice systems in their country. This  knowledge  of  essential  rights  and  responsibilities  allows  them  to  confidently  and  independently  take  control  of  their  own  lives, while reducing demand for pro bono legal representation.

During my time with BABSEACLE, I participated in a number of interesting and rewarding tasks and projects. I had the opportunity to become familiar with aspects of the criminal law in Indonesia,  Thailand,  the  Philippines,  Vietnam,  Malaysia  and  Singapore, while preparing related learning activities to be used by BABSEACLE in future community legal education workshops. I also learnt how to prepare a successful funding proposal and created teaching materials to pass on these proficiencies, enabling people to fund initiatives in their own communities. It feels great to know that a wide range of people in South-East Asia will benefit from my work and that of the other interns!

BABSEACLE also gave us the opportunity to visit various stakeholders involved in the justice space in Thailand, such as the Chiang Mai Municipal Court and Chiang Mai University, as well as firms and organisations that provide pro bono services such as Lanna Lawyers and the International Justice Mission. It was interesting to discuss all the different approaches these organisations took toward access to justice.

Having the opportunity to listen and ask questions also highlighted differences between the systems in place in Thailand as opposed to Australia. For example, the judges of the Municipal Court told us it is common for victims to prosecute offenders themselves, rather than have police or public prosecutors do it, as is the norm in Australia!

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