Teaching Comparative Law in Singapore: Global and Local Challenges
[This piece will be a chapter in a book currently in editing, Hu Jiaxiang, M de Visser and A Harding (eds), Legal Education in Asia: From Imitation to Innovation (Leiden, Brill, 2018). The story of how this got written is set out in the chapter but I will repeat it here because it might lead to readers being inspired to do something similar with their own courses.
Maartje and I compared notes on our respective, similar, courses at NUS and SMU. We decided to visit each other's classes and co-teach one session. This sparked further thoughts about what we were doing and even more importantly why we were doing it. The outcome was this book chapter; a by-product is that we are both using it at the outset of our courses to provoke students to think about why we study comparative law and what are the particular local as well as global tractions that shape this exercise. I cannot tell you what a pleasure it has been working with this superb young Dutch scholar and mother-of-two-wife-of-Gary Low. The book will be in press at Brill by July].
Andrew Harding & Maartje de Visser
In the 21st century it has become impossible for law schools across the globe to ignore two important, and interrelated, contemporary trends in the law. The first is that law no longer necessarily stops, as it used to, at national borders: many countries contemplate, for example, the extra-territorial application of their regimes governing areas such as competition, corruption or the environment. The second is that legal practice is becoming increasingly globalised as a result of a growing incidence of cross-border transactions, capital flows and migration. It is clear that an overwhelming majority of law schools have been compelled to re-examine their curriculum in light of the new and tight embrace between law and global processes, with a view to preparing their graduates for a world of law that looks increasingly and radically different from the one in which most of their teachers were themselves educated.
In the case of Singapore, this logic of legal globalisation is even more compelling than it might be elsewhere. As a small city-state of less than six million people with no natural resources, and a developed, highly sophisticated, service-driven economy, Singapore is already highly integrated with the rest of Asia and the global economy. It has extensive economic, cultural, and even familial links to most of the surrounding ASEAN countries (especially Malaysia), which themselves are integrating rapidly, and farther afield to China, India, North-East Asia, and other parts of the world. This state of affairs reflects, to a considerable extent, a deliberate policy choice: Singapore has the ambition to be - and already is in many ways - a legal hub for Asia, with expanding arbitration work, and now an international commercial court populated by international judges drawn from foreign common and civil law jurisdictions. Singapore is also served by a large and expanding, but also internationalising, legal profession. Its major law firms already have a string of offices around the Asian region and conversely, many foreign firms have a local presence following the liberalisation of the legal sector from the early 2000s onwards. As the Chief Justice of Singapore has stated:
[T]he increasingly multi-jurisdictional nature of legal practice makes dialogue amongst stakeholders in the regional and even the global sphere indispensable … operating in jurisdictional silos [is] unworkable for the modern commercial lawyer and for that matter for the judiciaries of today
Both of Singapore’s law schools – the National University of Singapore (NUS) and the Singapore Management University (SMU) – have accordingly invested effort in ensuring that their graduates are adequately prepared for this new legal reality. They seek to do so, amongst other things, through cultivating an awareness of the operation of other legal systems in the region and beyond by requiring their undergraduate students to take a foundational course in comparative law. It is this educational strategy that we investigate and report on in this chapter, based on our experience as faculty members responsible, along with others, for delivering this part of the LL.B curriculum. In preparing the ground for this analysis Professor Harding visited Dr de Visser’s class at SMU to discuss Asian constitutionalism, while Dr de Visser visited Professor Harding’s class at NUS to discuss the fundamental features of the civil law system. Each of us was able to familiarise him- or herself with the relevant issues covered, as well as the style and feel of the class; the content of these two courses are quite similar, some differences in emphasis and material notwithstanding.
Our analysis in this chapter is informed by two questions that reflect the principal theme of this volume. First, to what extent is emulation of the conventional, ‘Western’ approach to teaching comparative law appropriate in Asian legal education? Second, and relatedly, how should Asia’s law schools go about ensuring that such teaching is reflective of, and responsive to, the region’s legal idiosyncrasies? For the reasons set out earlier, together with its relatively long history of comparative law teaching, Singapore lends itself well to being used as a case study to address these complex issues. Yet, the reader should not expect to find a prescriptive list of best practices or startling successes in what follows. Our intentions are more modest: in charting Singapore’s experience, we seek to draw attention to pertinent challenges that Asian teachers of comparative law will need to confront, and offer some strategies that might be adopted in response, in the hope of contributing to a region-wide – if not global – process of comparing notes about the nature, purposes and methods of teaching comparative law.
B. Evolution of Comparative Law Teaching in Singapore
We begin with an historical narrative to expose the major trends that have informed the design of foundational comparative law courses in Singapore from their introduction in the mid-1980s to the present day.
1. Instrumentalism: From Working With Foreign Law To Competing In The Global ‘Law Market’
We observe that there are, broadly speaking, two types of rationale for teaching comparative law. The first is that comparative law enlivens students’ appreciation of the fact that for a given real-world problem, there may be different legal solutions. This approach not only creates flexibility in dealing with complex socio-economic problems where the local solution is not automatically assumed to be the best; it also enables the student to understand his or her own legal system at a more profound level. Here nothing is simply ‘given’. The other rationale is that knowledge and appreciation of other legal systems, and the skills to procure such information, are simply important in view of the demand of the legal profession for foreign law in the course of litigation or law reform. While Jaako Husa in a challenging article on teaching comparative law favours the pedagogical rationale at the expense of the practical rationale, we argue that in Asia the latter is at least as important as the former, and certainly Singapore has been driving resources and new designs in that direction.
Indeed, the very decision to introduce comparative law teaching in the Singapore law curriculum was justified with reference to the needs of the legal profession. We should note that this sensitivity of undergraduate programs to the expectations of the legal complex and the public service is by no means unique to courses of this nature or to that jurisdiction. As the contributions of, inter alia, Ahmad Tajudin and Winston Zee show, questions about the degree to which law schools should provide vocational training, and the form that this should take, are also being asked in Malaysia and China; Munin Pongsapan explains how, similarly in Thailand, the legal profession has for all intents and purposes exerted a leadership role regarding the development of Thai legal education. For the first decade-and-a-half following its establishment, NUS’ curriculum was devoted exclusively to the study of the national legal system and one would search in vain for a course offered that had the word ‘comparative’ in its title. The impetus to change this state of affairs came in the form of a 1981 report on the NUS law school and the direction of its curriculum. Its authors noted that:
Lawyers are also finding it increasingly important to know about the legal systems and laws of the countries their clients have to deal with. In particular, we have in mind the legal systems of the other Asean countries (except Malaysia), Japan and the continental European countries who have a different legal tradition from ours, namely, the ‘civil law’ tradition. Since our lawyers have largely been trained in the ‘common law’ tradition, they should also acquire some working knowledge of the ‘civil law’ legal systems.
This excerpt clearly shows the principal rationale for exposing Singapore students to other legal systems: this was deemed necessary – already 35 years ago – to meet the demands for legal advice on the part of cross-border business ventures. This practice-oriented thinking has remained a constant theme, not least due to successive government reports that reprise the needs of the legal fraternity and the role of legal education in addressing these areas of legal knowledge. Thus, when the government in 2006 decided that the time was ripe for a second law school and SMU in response presented its curriculum proposal, there was a consensus among all those involved that a comparative law course ought to be an integral part of the LLB program, so that the new law school at SMU might meet its goal of producing graduates who are ‘able to think across borders’ and work in Singapore as well as in the region. Similarly, a noted local legal practitioner, Michael Hwang SC, emphasised the professional relevance of studying other legal systems in his contribution to the 2013 NUS law curriculum review:
[A]ny lawyer wanting to work in a major law firm with exposure to international transactions will inevitably come across transactions (especially in the business context) with [Singapore’s] major trading partners like Indonesia, China, Thailand, Vietnam, Taiwan, Korea and Japan (and in due time, other emerging Asian nations like Mongolia and Laos) all of which have civil law traditions (and not forgetting the Philippines, which has a mixture of legal traditions). There is therefore certainly enough opportunity for Singapore lawyers to come across transactions and disputes where the governing law will be one of these national laws
Nonetheless, as the demands and expectations of the legal complex have shifted, so too has the rationale for comparative law teaching. The passages just mentioned emphasise training students in foreign legal systems so that they will be able to discharge their professional responsibilities to their clients when the latter engage in dealings with firms located in, or issues arising in relation to, other jurisdictions. This outward-looking aspect is today complemented by a more introspective stance: knowledge in comparative law is also seen as beneficial for the development of the local legal system. With Singapore law having come into its own, the government has begun to actively promote the Singapore legal system as the natural ‘partner for legal solutions in Asia’, as the dedicated website puts it. Competing successfully in the international market for laws requires inter alia regular adaptation of legal doctrines and institutions to suit commercial demands, and the same website touts Singapore law as ‘[continuing] to absorb and modify the common law as well as best practices from other mature legal systems’. It should be clear that the identification of legal approaches employed elsewhere that would warrant transplantation and adaptation to the domestic sphere necessitates a comparative exercise between the home legal system and that of the prospective donor.
Accordingly, at present, foreign systems are not only studied for their own sake at NUS and SMU; these also function as a lens to help students uncover the premises of legal rules and think creatively about domestic legal problems. At SMU, this has led one of the authors to require students to write a comparative essay on a topical legal issue. To direct attention to the role that comparative law can play in fashioning arguments to support case briefs before the Singapore courts, students were inter alia asked to consider how two high-profile local judgments – dealing respectively with a challenge to the validity of the Penal Code’s Section 377a and a claim for damages for wrongful birth – would have been decided under the law of at least two other jurisdictions. Other examples were framed to mirror topics that local agencies tasked with law reform may have occasion to consider, such as the need for an Ombudsman and revisions to the framework governing parental leave. In a parallel process at NUS, students have discussed comparatively the ‘Confucianisation of law’ with reference to Singapore’s Maintenance of Parents Act 1995 and other regional examples pertaining to parent-child relationships.
2. From South East England To South East Asia
Criticism that the NUS law school behaved as if though it were in South East England rather than South East Asia would not have been too wide of the mark some 20 years ago. The principal foreign jurisdiction studied was England, which, as the country’s former colonial master, had left a strong imprint on the origins and contents of Singapore’s legal system. By way of example, common law subjects such as contract and tort were taught via a combination of English and local case law. Admittedly, some attention was devoted to regional common law jurisdictions – notably India and Malaysia in the field of public law – based on the logic that in this domain a number of the relevant domestic rules were received from those countries, often pre-independence. In a similar vein, the 1981 report that foreshadowed the introduction of comparative law teaching envisaged room for the study of the civil law tradition – a topic that will be revisited later – and explicitly pointed to the merits of studying European continental systems in this regard, following the then-NUS Vice-Chancellor’s request that the authors of the report undertake study missions to France and Germany. This, in turn, meant that the NUS comparative law course in its original incarnation was predicated on an examination of ‘the European Economic Community (EEC) countries’ to uncover the methods and structures of civil law systems. Asian legal systems, including those of fellow ASEAN states, did not otherwise usually feature in the curriculum. Relatedly, Islamic law was not taught despite the presence of local shari’a courts in charge of applying Islamic law as personal law for Muslims.
Today, the comparative courses at NUS and SMU are firmly Asia-centric at their core, in due recognition of the country’s geographic location and the growing practical relevance of familiarity with neighbouring jurisdictions for new entrants to the Singapore legal profession. The 2006 SMU curriculum proposal declared the chief objective of Comparative Legal Systems (CLS) to be making students ‘conversant with the legal traditions and cultures within Asia, especially [those] of Southeast Asia, India and China’, and this remains the outlook today. At NUS, the decision was taken in 2013 to revise the law curriculum, inter alia to enhance students’ exposure to other Asian legal systems, especially those belonging to the civil law tradition, over the course of their legal studies. As part of this exercise, its basic comparative law course was rebranded from ‘Comparative Legal Traditions’ to ‘Legal Systems of Asia’ (LSA). The significance of this change must primarily be seen in the explicit reference to ‘Asia’ in its title and the signalling function this may serve for (prospective) students: content-wise, the course as refashioned simply places even greater emphasis than before on the reception of the civil law tradition in the region.
In keeping with the ‘Asianisation’ of comparative law teaching, we are of the view that a conscious and continuous effort should be made to draw on the law of neighbouring jurisdictions whenever possible in selecting examples and case studies for class discussion. For instance, NUS students are introduced to the comparative law evergreen of the legal transplant by discussing how the English doctrine of undue influence in family guarantees in the law of contract has played out in the local context, while the notion of legal pluralism is taught at SMU by examining how Indonesia, Malaysia, India and Japan have sought to arrange State-religion relationships.
To conclude this narrative of the evolution of the Singapore approach to the teaching of comparative law, we should finally note that when NUS introduced its Comparative Legal Traditions course on the heels of the 1981 report, it was offered as only one of a total of 18 electives. It is a testament to the value attributed to the study of foreign legal systems that both the NUS and SMU courses are today part of the core curriculum and hence mandatory for all law students – this despite a large expansion in the number of available elective courses.
C. Some Comments on Context
We have seen that comparative law teaching in Singapore has become more attuned to the country’s regional setting over the course of the years, and there is every reason to expect that other Asian law schools will follow suit with a comparative component when deciding on the objectives and design of their courses. This, we argue, requires careful engagement with at least three interrelated characteristics of the Asian region that are not shared, or at least not shared to the same degree, by the legal systems as they operate in Europe and North America.
To start with, the degree and nature of integration in the region where students are educated and prepared to enter practice matters, not least because one of the aims traditionally envisaged for comparative law is as an instrument for legal convergence. A desire to recreate the famous ius commune seems to exert a powerful influence over integration endeavours in Europe, with a concomitant central role for comparative law as a methodological tool for legal development. Thus, in fashioning proposals for new EU legislative instruments, the Commission regularly relies on comparative surveys of the laws in place in the various Member States; the Treaties exhort the Court of Justice to devise a regime for the EU’s non-contractual liability ‘in accordance with the general principles common to the laws of the Member States’, and academics in the fields of private law have been active in conducting projects looking for ‘common cores’. In addition, the choice of the principle of mutual recognition in lieu of full harmonisation in a number of policy areas – such as that of justice, freedom and security – means that national enforcement agencies and courts in the EU are increasingly expected to be knowledgeable about the legal systems of other Member States. Given the often symbiotic relationship between law and the legal profession, this reality will in turn impact on the manner in which comparative legal education in Europe is approached. The situation is currently very different in Asia. Countries in that region do not have a shared legal heritage that they can harken back to, and those virtues comparative law professors may otherwise have sought to extoll in class. While there are concerted and intensifying efforts to work towards legal convergence, notably in the commercial domain, these are very much a project for the future rather than an established fact. At the time of this writing there is no evidence of a systematic use of comparative research-based drafting of policy measures, calling for the involvement of academics who specialise in, for instance, comparative contract, tort or property law, and who would in turn be eager to share with their students the experience accumulated as a result of participating in such projects. Similarly, with the ASEAN Economic Community and other transnational trading deals such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership still in their infancy, judges and other legal officers do not face the same sense of urgency to be intimately acquainted with the policies and rules in place in different jurisdictions and hence engage in some form of ‘comparative law in practice’ on a regular, if not daily, basis.
This brings us to a further consideration: the salience of the common-civil law divide. In Europe, this conventional mainstay of comparative law can be presented as a distinction of declining practical relevance, as the historical differences between the two systems are being gradually ironed out via EU legal instruments and authoritative judicial pronouncements on their correct interpretation and application in all EU member states. Here too, the Asian dynamic is different. The discourse around regionalisation in Asia has emphasised the contemporary importance, not the marginality of the common-law/civil-law dichotomy. As Sundaresh Menon has put it, ‘While it is possible to speak in terms of European law, it is difﬁcult to speak in terms of an “Asia-Paciﬁc” or “Asian” law. Even [ASEAN] … an established regional body, cannot claim a uniform commercial law. There is as yet no “Southeast Asian” law, which perhaps is unsurprising given the lack of common colonial roots and hence the absence of a common legal tradition’.
Paradoxically, one might say, in Asia - with the lack of a natural fit for these two major world systems of law as well as its cultural diversity - the civil-common law divide is regarded as far more significant than in Europe, due to the combination of the state of integration projects and the more even distribution of the two traditions among Asian countries as a result of historical incidents of colonisation. The civil-common law divide was accordingly the main area covered in the NUS course for a number of years, and the SMU version for its part was also organised around this dichotomy when it first ran. The need to keep devoting adequate attention to the civilian tradition has been underscored by Michael Hwang, who continued his observations on the commercial realities that fresh graduate will face as follows:
Taking my own practice area of international arbitration, cases heard in the SIAC regularly involve the governing laws of China and Indonesia, with Vietnam becoming more popular … We are also not far from the Middle East, with which we are rapidly developing trade and economic relations, and about half of the Gulf countries have civil law traditions as well. Indeed, civil law traditions have become so prevalent in my practice that I am actively taking steps to improve my knowledge of the basic principles of civil law, and I would urge your [NUS] students to undertake that same training both for academic reasons … as well as for practical reasons of equipping them to face the requirements of modern legal practice in Singapore.
At the same time, in teaching the divide, account must be taken of the multiple sources and influences that have shaped Asian legal systems: China and Vietnam, for instance, are informed by socialism, Confucianism, an eclectic policy towards legal transplants, as well as the civil law tradition. This makes the isolation of discussion of the civil law - important as this legal tradition and its concepts are in most private law matters - difficult to achieve when one aims to present an accurate overview of the region’s legal systems. In other words, the relative ‘messiness’ and ‘legal melting pot’ character of a great many South East Asian systems means that it would be misconceived to pretend during comparative law teaching that a student truly grasps their internal logic if he or she can ‘pigeon-hole’ Asian countries as belonging to either the civil law or the common law tradition.
In fact - and this is the final contextual feature - comparative law teaching in Asia must confront the difficult question as to the significance and perhaps even the meaning of ‘law’ in that region, with its ‘nomic din’. The challenge here is the very obvious prevalence of a number of pluralisms. As for religious and ‘classical’ legal pluralism, we note the pervasive co-existence of State law with customary and religious norms that are perceived by some parts of the local communities as amounting to ‘law’. In this regard, one can point to the continued practical relevance of adat law in Indonesia or the exclusive jurisdiction that Malaysia’s Syariah courts exercise over Muslims in the personal law domain. Next, Asia exhibits economic pluralism: the region comprises an amalgamation of developed, middle-income, and developing countries. This brings with it an element of diversity that arguably shapes the demand for, and the context of, comparative knowledge on the part of law graduates in ways that differ from what is expected in other parts of the world where ‘law and development’ or ‘law-and-governance’ initiatives play a much smaller role, if any. Lastly, this area of the world evinces a dramatic degree of political pluralism, where one can find every type of regime: from an absolute monarchy in Brunei to military rule, as in Thailand and Myanmar; dominant party systems in Singapore, Malaysia, and Japan; stable democracies in India, Indonesia and South Korea; and one-party socialist states in North Korea, China, Laos, and Vietnam. We can again draw a parallel with the state of affairs that prevails in Europe and North America: there, only the first dimension of pluralism seems relevant, and even then, at a marginal level.
Coming to terms with Asia’s reality of pluralism partly requires, we believe, expanding the breadth of foundational courses in this area to include public law themes to complement the traditional private law leanings of the common-civil law divide. On the one hand, an awareness of the manner in which constitutionalism is practiced in Southeast Asia is useful in making sense of the prospects and pitfalls for further regional economic integration. On the other hand, there are indications that developed Asian states, like Singapore or Japan, are also interested in becoming a legal donor of (aspects of) rule of law models for countries such as Myanmar, Vietnam or China, and they typically present their frameworks as more suitable for transplantation in view of their elaboration with reference to Asian political and economic factors and ideals, in contrast to the Western version of this notion with its liberal-democratic underpinnings. Exposure to foreign public law discourses and arrangements may particularly help those graduates who enter government service, either in realising their country’s ambitions as a regional provider of a wide array of legal services, or in evaluating the relative appeal of competing frameworks on offer for transplantation.
By way of example, our students are thus invited to consider Malaysia’s struggle to deal with the contradiction between Westminster constitutionalism and Islamic law (at NUS) and to examine the nature of Indonesia’s brand of secularism and the impact of that country’s blasphemy legislation in fostering religious harmony (at SMU) – an objective that also strongly resonates in multi-religious Singapore. The region’s political pluralism is highlighted, inter alia, through a debate at NUS on the application of classic notions like the rule of law and separation of powers in societies such as China and Vietnam in the context of LSA, while the SMU course devotes time to reflections on the existence of facets of power (like the military in Myanmar or the monarchy in Thailand) alongside institutions that represent Montesquieu’s three branches of government.
The region’s rampant pluralism arguably also calls for inquiries that extend beyond a ‘simple’ comparison of positive laws and invite students to think about legal cultures, with all the methodological challenges and requirements for the background and training of teachers that such an approach entails.
To sum up this discussion, the existence of considerable variations in regional context must be duly reflected in the curriculum and methods employed during comparative law courses, to ensure that students receive knowledge and gain perspective that are genuinely horizon-extending and actually useful in tackling comparative law issues arising in the particular Asian setting.
D. Creating a Conducive Learning Environment
In light of what has been said about the determinants of and influences on undergraduate comparative legal education in Asia, let us now consider some of the didactic approaches that law schools may wish to employ.
1. Fostering Debate Among Class Participants
As Ault and Glendon have observed, while comparative law courses in the curriculum may have ‘a variety of functions’, a goal that seems to be shared among their teachers is to add new dimensions to the way students think about the law. This is also true of the foundational courses that we have taught in Singapore for the past few years: these are conceived as having a ‘perspective’ character, in that we do not seek to instruct students systematically in the substantive law of particular foreign jurisdictions, except by illustrating how a legal system may respond to a given socio-economic problem. Rather, the approach taken is to explore relevant themes – both general (eg legal transplantation, legal pluralism, constitutionalism) as well as specific (eg Islamic legal traditions, Confucianism, socialist law) – and impart system-specific knowledge in the sense of cultivating an understanding of the history, philosophy, traditional institutions, and legal methods (procedures, reasoning) involved in the legal system under consideration.
We have found that in terms of pedagogical tools, the use of Socratic questioning is particularly suitable to stimulate critical thinking among students about competing legal approaches and to direct their attention to the values and beliefs that underpin both their own and foreign legal systems. To illustrate, when comparing the approaches that civil and common law systems take to tortious liability, students at SMU are quick to recognise that, pursuant to the relevant statutory and judicial authorities, it is generally easier to bring a claim for wrongful conduct in civil law jurisdictions than in those that belong to the common-law tradition, with its insistence on a duty of care that must be present before one can proceed under the quasi-general tort of negligence. They initially decry this (in their view) overly liberal approach and when asked why, proceed to marshal utilitarian arguments that range from the importance of protecting entrepreneurship from excessive liability to the enormous financial burdens that excessive litigation would bring about. When subsequently challenged to think of rationales for adopting a more generous stance on tortious liability, students are led to consider the value of societal solidarity, with its appeal to a different set of moral beliefs. They are further encouraged to reflect on the role of insurance, including the requirement imposed by some civil law jurisdictions that all residents purchase general liability insurance, in understanding how non-legal mechanisms impact on the use of the legal system. In a comparable vein, students at NUS are asked to think about the merits of studying Japanese law, and whether the Chinese experience demonstrates that rule of law reforms propel economic development. The Japanese legal experience, they discover, indicates that the civil law system as developed in Japan can be beneficial in securing social solidarity and in dispute resolution; and they come to realise that China struggles with competing approaches to the rule of law and judicial independence.
When it comes to the method of instruction, then, emulation of the West, which pioneered Socratic questioning, may offer the most solid foundation for comparative legal education in this region also. To be clear, the virtues of this method in training legally agile minds are not confined to comparative courses: in his contribution to this volume, McConnaughay relates how students at Peking University’s School of Transnational Law have similarly come to appreciate the merits of Socratic questioning in contrast to being lectured throughout their years in law school. At the same time, we must bear in mind that abandoning the conventional approach practised by many Asian universities of having large-scale lectures where students are assigned a largely passive role requires a change in mind-set that is unlikely to happen overnight. What is more, while it is certainly possible to employ Socratic questioning in classes comprising dozens of students – think for instance of the poignant example set by philosopher Michael Sandel with his “Justice” seminars at Harvard University – fostering a truly inclusive dialogue is made easier as class sizes are reduced. Singapore’s two law schools are fortunate to find themselves in a position where they can afford to instruct their students in relatively small groups of around 40 students, and to do so throughout the four-year LLB program for both core and elective courses, including those on comparative law. Whether other law schools in the region can follow suit (assuming that the willingness to do so in principle exists) will depend in large part on resource considerations such as the student-instructor ratio and the availability of sufficient classrooms of the requisite size – factors that may well be beyond their exclusive control.
To the extent that the Socratic method is chosen as the preferred pedagogical tool, we suggest extending its reach beyond instructor-led discussion to also encompass student-to-student dialogues. At SMU, one of the authors has done so by designating part of each three-hour seminar as the ‘peer teaching segment’. A small group of students – typically around four – is given the task of conveying a clearly defined aspect of the mandatory material to the rest of the class, using Socratic questioning. Topics that have been peer-taught include ‘the effect of supervening events for contractual performance’, ‘the role of judges and the organisation of the judiciary in civil and common law traditions’, and ‘the use of, and preconditions for, public interest litigation’. This approach is decidedly resource-intensive, since extensive pre-seminar meetings have to be scheduled to discuss both the content and manner of delivery with the students responsible for the peer-teaching segment. Initial experiences have however been very positive. The students in charge of peer teaching are able to practise their skills in creating a captive audience and listening attentively to the points raised by their fellow students – qualities that should stand them in good stead for their future careers in the law. The better sessions were those combining a more explanatory and a more normative/evaluative portion, with students explicitly seeking to make sense of variations in approach and thinking between the jurisdictions covered and encouraging reflection on what insights the Singapore legal system may wish to draw from the experiences elsewhere. Several peer teaching groups also chose to structure their session as a dialogue among their members, with each acting as a fictional representative of a different (Asian) legal system in a debate on the legal techniques employed to address a common social problem. This appears to be a particularly successful strategy in instilling an appreciation for the ethos of that jurisdiction on the part of the fictional ‘student-ambassador’, with a knock-on effect on the perception of the merits of the legal techniques chosen by the system under consideration on the part of the audience.
At NUS, one of the authors implements a different exercise with a somewhat similar purpose, requiring around five students in each class to prepare ‘response pieces’ in which they engage with one or more of the prescribed readings. These ‘response pieces’ must be submitted before class for feedback and then presented at the start of the seminar. During class, the authoring students are called upon to present their understanding of the text(s), together with any tropes for debate that they have formulated, to their peers. In so doing, they often play a central role in creating traction for discussion. For example, in 2015 one student was asked to discuss whether Myanmar is a common law system and whether it should be a common law system; his presentation led to a discussion embracing close and critical analysis of what we regard as fundamental to a common law system, and in what respects the developmental needs of a country in transition can be served by the common law. Similarly, in another class a student discussed whether socialist law is a separate legal tradition, leading to critical analysis of law in socialist states and discovery of socialist elements in changing legal systems in Vietnam and China.
2. Selection Of Course Materials
Another issue that must be addressed is the selection of materials: what makes good reading for the Asian student of comparative law? At first blush, teachers are spoilt for choice; recent years have seen a veritable explosion in handbooks, edited volumes and journal articles on comparative law writ large, addressing everything from methodological quandaries to inquiries into the substantive law in a number of jurisdictions. A closer look reveals, however, that most of the leading publications in this field comprise writings that focus on the US and Europe. To illustrate, the Oxford Handbook of Comparative Law in its first part purports to give an account of the evolution of comparative law in the world: of the eight chapters, five narrate the development of the discipline in European countries, a sixth describes the United States, while the chapter on “East Asia” is effectively a case study of the Japanese reception of the German Pandectist system in the area of private law. Similarly, a country report on Japanese law is the only Asian element in the Elgar Encyclopedia of Comparative Law (which features 19 other such reports, in addition to contributions on a host of other substantive topics) and Zweigert and Kötz, in their classic An Introduction to Comparative Law also confine themselves to a discussion of Japanese and Chinese law. One is left with the impression that the chapters on Asia in these and other texts are largely tokenistic. Moreover, comparative writings on Asia often feature the same countries – namely, Japan, India and China (occasionally supplemented by references to legal practices in South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore) – to the exclusion of large swathes of a region that has rightly been characterised as “extraordinarily diverse”. One looks in vain for papers comparing how Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand deal with problems in the law of contracts – like the possibility of literal enforcement or the interpretation of promises – or the operation of the tort law system in Cambodia, Malaysia and Myanmar. As for accounts that have a more methodological slant, these are frequently prepared by American or European scholars who naturally rely on examples from these parts of the world to illustrate complex notions such as legal culture or convergence. This reduces the educational value of such accounts for Asian students who are not intimately familiar with say, European history or debates on the harmonisation of European private law, and does little to trigger their interest in the study of comparative law more generally.
At both NUS and SMU the strategy has been to mix literature which describes or explains Asian legal systems from the inside, written by scholars trained in the relevant system, with literature written by scholars with an external and more comparative law-oriented approach. That most of the relevant internal literature will be in a language other than English, the medium of instruction in Singapore, presents a missed opportunity if not a downright limitation. We pursue this issue below.
For now, let us make clear that while this ‘eclectic’ approach to the selection of materials may be largely born of necessity, we in fact consider that there are several good reasons to continue to do so, even if casebooks and textbooks that draw on examples and use primary materials from the region are more widely available. As the very aim of comparative law teaching is to expose students to a range of viewpoints and ways of thinking about the interplay between law and society, it seems preferable to prescribe readings by different authors addressing the same issue. The idea is to create an experience whereby students, when preparing for class, are already challenged to make sense of the different perspectives and think critically about which of these they prefer, and why. This, in our experience, has a positive correlation on the quality and thoughtfulness of the discussion during the actual seminar. We also believe that combining readings from various sources serves as an antidote to the tendency among students to search for the ‘right’ solution, which we consider anathema to the course’s objective of broadening perspectives and making students more accepting of the merits of solutions adopted by other legal traditions. What is more, using one or two textbooks to structure comparative law seminars undervalues the flexibility inherent in such courses, which do not have a predetermined list of specific topics that must be addressed in contrast to classic law modules such as contract or tort law: the latter would surely be seen as incomplete if they did not feature a discussion of offer and acceptance or the regime governing vicarious liability respectively. As such, and framed in more positive terms, comparative law courses provide ample opportunity for innovation as far as content is concerned. We find ourselves adjusting the selection of materials on a yearly basis in an effort to tailor the course to what might interest students in any given year, also bearing in mind local legal issues and controversies.
On a related note, textbooks that offer a comparative examination of an area of substantive law may be out-of-date for at least some of the jurisdictions canvassed within a few years of publication. While change is a feature of all legal systems, the rapid pace and scale of legislative reform in Asia – with many countries having recently experienced or presently going through economic and political transitions – make this risk a particularly real one for teachers of comparative law in this region. Therefore, placing too much faith in a handbook may mean that students are inadvertently exposed to incorrect information, and hence come away with flawed comparative findings.
In contrast, embracing a dynamic approach to the assignment of readings seems to us to be beneficial for students – for the reasons set out earlier – and teachers alike, as the latter are able to adapt a comparative law course to their particular capabilities and interests, which makes for more effective teaching and accords well with the reality in many law schools of having multiple instructors for a single course.
3. The Personal Dimension
More so than with other law subjects, the learning experience in a comparative law course also depends – pedagogical tools aside – on the people involved. This applies to both those in front of the classroom as well as the students. A more heterogeneous student body, in terms of socio-economic (and ideally also legal-political) background, views and experiences may impact positively on the nature and quality of debate during comparative law seminars when it comes to canvassing the respective merits of alternative models to social problems. Reality, however, may be quite different, as it also is in Singaporean law schools. Each comparative law class at NUS and SMU comprises about 40 to 50 students, almost entirely Singapore citizens with a similar English-medium educational background, high-grade profiles in secondary school or junior college, and holding similar worldviews. It is no easy feat to alleviate such a situation. It might be possible to use admission processes to bring about (more) variation in the composition of the student cohort, but this may expose Asian law schools – much like their US counterparts – to protracted debates about the desirability of affirmative action preferences and the shape that any such policy ought to take. It also invites reflection on a question raised earlier, that of the role of law schools vis-à-vis the profession and the extent to which the latter should reflect, to a greater or lesser degree, the make-up of society as a whole. While these issues clearly warrant further investigation, space constraints prevent us from doing so at this juncture. Let us instead highlight two alternative strategies that we have experience with, and that might be easier to implement. At SMU, exchange students are allowed to take compulsory undergraduate modules, including the Comparative Legal Systems course, and a growing number make use of this possibility.
Conversely, at NUS, one of the authors has invited visiting young scholars from neighbouring jurisdictions (Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia) who are at the law school to attend his Legal Systems in Asia seminar on the civil law tradition. The students were asked to cross-examine these visitors and compare their answers with a view to uncovering the practical significance of a country subscribing to the civil law tradition: in relation to which legal issues was it important to resort to knowledge of the civil law system? How does belonging to this tradition affect law reform and the room and choice to engage in legal transplantation? How does the civil law impact on local legal culture or legal consciousness? Such exchanges can be more effective than a mere reading of textbooks and other materials, however comprehensive and well-drafted, in correcting initial - and otherwise enduring - misperceptions on the part of students trained in a common law system as to the functioning of the civil law tradition.
Turning then, briefly, to the profiles of professors teaching basic comparative courses, we observe that the experience in Singapore, as in most parts of the world, is that these do not tend to be scholars who have themselves been educated in the local universities. Indeed, none of the seven professors who have taught the NUS course so far are Singaporean nationals;  and the same is true for four of the five professors who have offered the SMU module to date. All these scholars, however, share the characteristic of having accumulated substantial cross-systemic legal experience of one kind or another. A provocative question that warrants an inquiry in its own right is whether such a background is simply imperative to provide local students with an effective induction to foreign legal systems.
E. Final Thoughts
While there appears to be a natural and obvious fit between the case for teaching comparative law and the phenomenon of globalisation and discourses of transnational or ‘world’ law, our main conclusion is that it is important for foundational comparative courses to take seriously their local (in our case: Asian) context and embed themselves within that logic and legal setting. This, amongst others, means that one should resist the temptation of effecting a simple transplant of the curricula or educational approaches that have been adopted, and work well, in Europe or North America, even while accepting that the project of deciding on the most suitable approach in the Asian region is still in its infancy. In fact, we may need to accept that definitive structures and approaches, let alone future-proof ‘blueprints’ for such courses, will continue to elude us. This is partly due to the very nature of comparative law subjects which - unlike, say, tax law or the sale of goods - have a self-defining subject matter. As the needs of graduates change, this too may necessitate changes to the selection of topics and course materials covered. Above all, the emphasis should be on cultivating the acquisition of adaptability in the process of legal thought pertaining to topical socio-economic problems, rather than knowledge about the intricacies of different legal systems which may become out of date very quickly. There are several challenges that Asian law schools may need to confront in this regard in the short to medium term.
General-perspective courses of the kind examined in this chapter cannot be the only encounter of students with foreign legal systems and other habits of thought during their undergraduate education. Rather, such courses should be viewed as offering a foundation for further study in specific, substantive areas of law, especially those which students are likely to encounter in practice, such as contract, corporate governance, foreign investment, and dispute resolution systems. This entails, then, the development of substantive comparative law courses – a process that is slowly but surely being embraced at Singapore’s law schools. At NUS, a 2013 curriculum review created more opportunities for the study of other legal models that supplement the foundational comparative law course. A first-year compulsory module, ‘Singapore Legal System’, was replaced by a new first-semester-long module called ‘Singapore Law in Context’, which introduces the history of the common law and Singapore legal institutions (including Islamic law) and briefly situates Singapore’s law and institutions in relation to other legal approaches, notably the civil law tradition. Further, during their third and fourth year of studies, NUS students are required to choose at least one module from a ‘basket’ of advanced civil law subjects. In a similar vein, from 2016 onwards, upper year students at SMU must take at least one course from the school’s ‘Asian Studies Cluster’ in an effort to boost their knowledge of laws and policies in the region. Developments along these lines may require law schools to hire faculty members who are well-versed in the legal systems deemed relevant for more advanced comparative law courses. The operation of a visiting professor program, where jurists from other countries are asked to teach intensive courses in their area of specialisation, can add a good deal to the available in-house capacity.
Asian law schools in general, and professors in charge of comparative courses in particular, can further benefit from a broader inquiry as to the emerging needs of the region in terms of legal development. Where, for example, do ‘Asian values’ and international human rights or the rule of law feature? What can individual scholarly communities contribute to these issues in educational terms? Reflections on these, and similar questions, are valuable in designing an educational experience that adequately prepares students for the comparative law queries that await them in their legal careers – be it in practice, government service or academia.
A final challenge is finding ways to create opportunities for exposure to other legal systems by a process of immersion. This conventionally takes the form of having one’s own students and faculty spend some time at a foreign university, and we readily subscribe to the benefits of such a practice. In addition, law schools may wish to think about organising study missions, where students visit a range of institutions and people who shape the dynamics of the host jurisdiction over the course of a week or two. Yet another venue for immersion is offered by providing students with the opportunity of providing community services overseas. The point of such exercises, both of which are available to students at SMU, is not so much about cultivating familiarity with a foreign legal system as such, but rather creating appreciation of the societal context in which a legal system operates and, accordingly, expanding students’ thinking about the role of law in different societies and the very meaning to be ascribed to ‘law’.
In the same way that comparative law courses direct students’ attention to other systems to gain new insights, we are convinced that for their teachers too, much may be gained from casting their eyes to how other law schools in the region engage with the challenges of teaching comparative law, notably in ensuring a sufficiently Asian ‘flavour’. It is our hope that this chapter may prove to be a source of inspiration for future collaborative efforts in this regard.
 Singapore International Commercial Court Committee, Report of the Singapore International Commercial Court Committee (2013) para 6 <www.mlaw.gov.sg/content/dam/minlaw/corp/News/Annex%20A%20-%20SICC%20Committee%20Report.pdf> accessed 6 May 2017: Singapore is considered among the world’s preferred sites for arbitration.
Singapore International Commercial Court, ‘Establishment of the SICC’ <www.sicc.gov.sg/About.aspx?id=21> accessed 7 May 2017; Constitution of the Republic of Singapore, Art 95(4)(c).
 For an overview with reference to relevant primary materials see G Low, ‘A Globalised Legal Profession’ in Gary Chan and Jack Lee (eds), The Legal System of Singapore – Institutions, Principles and Practices (Lexis Nexis 2015) 201-211.
 Sundaresh Menon, ‘Transnational Commercial Law: Realities, Challenges and a Call for Meaningful Convergence’  Singapore Journal of Legal Studies 231 (emphasis in original).
 These are currently the only two law schools offering a Singapore LL.B. degree, with annual undergraduate intakes of about 240 and 150 students respectively. A third law school is in the process of being set up, in line with the recommendation to that effect in the report by the 4th Committee on the Supply of Lawyers; Ministry of Law, ‘Steering Committee for Singapore’s Third Law School’ (press release, 27 November 2013).
 Teaching of core material in Singapore’s law schools is largely done via ‘team teaching’, in which each professor teaches all classes (around 36 contact hours) for one (or more) section(s) comprising 40 to 50 students.
 This is no coincidence: as the Committee to Develop the Singapore Legal Sector notes, ‘With the advent of the second law school, efforts should be made to ensure that the content of law courses offered by both law schools have a common core.’ See Report of the Committee to Develop the Singapore Legal Sector (September 2007), para 2.50 <www.mlaw.gov.sg/content/dam/minlaw/corp/assets/documents/linkclicke1d7.pdf> accessed 6 May 2017. Oversight in this regard, and the implementation of recommendations related to legal education, is exercised by the Singapore Institute of Legal Education.
 cf the initiatives for such a dialogue taken by the International Association of Law Schools, as highlighted by Francis Wang in his contribution to this volume.
 cf L Ribstein and E O’Hara, The Law Market (OUP 2009).
 J Husa, ‘Turning the Curriculum Upside Down: Comparative Law as an Educational Tool for Constructing Pluralistic Legal Mind’ (2009) 10 German Law Journal 913.
 Here we leave aside the more normative question of the demands that legal practice should be able to impose on legal education, and the legitimacy or otherwise of requiring law schools to bear (part of) the costs of vocational training of future legal professionals.
 S Jayakumar and Chin Tet Yung, Report on the Development of the Faculty of Law – National University of Singapore (National University of Singapore 1981).
 ibid para 8.
 See eg the Report of the Committee to Develop the Singapore Legal Sector (n 7) (also known as the VK Rajah Report after the name of its Chair) and the reports by successive committees on the supply of lawyers.
 The impetus for the establishment of the country’s second law school was the Report by the 3rd Committee on the Supply of Lawyers in 2006, which justified this move with reference to the expected demand for legal services and the beneficial effects that institutional competition would have on the quality and diversity of the local LL.B. degree. See eg Ministry of Law Singapore, ‘Government Accepts Key Recommendations of the Third Committee on the Supply of Lawyers’ (press release, 17 August 2006) <www.mlaw.gov.sg/news/press-releases/government-accepts-key-recommendations-of-the-third-committee-on-the-supply-of-lawyers-and-.html> accessed 6 May 2017.
 Singapore Management University, ‘Proposed Curriculum of School of Law’ of 15 November 2006, para 2.1 (copy on file with the authors).
 Statement by Michael Hwang in response to the 2013 NUS Law School Curriculum Review (copy on file with the authors and quoted with Mr Hwang’s and NUS Faculty of Law’s kind permission).
 There have been conscious and concerted efforts to develop an ‘autochtonous’ legal system, on which see eg Andrew Phang, ‘Of Generality and Specificity – A Suggested Approach Toward the Development of an Autochtonous Singapore Legal System’ (1989) Singapore Academy of Law Journal 68; TM Yeo & C Bull, ‘Autochthony and Authority in the Law of Obligations’ in HT Chao and others (eds), The Law in His Hands: A Tribute to Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong (Singapore Academy Publishing 2012).
 Singapore Academy of Law, ‘SingaporeLaw.sg’ <www.singaporelaw.sg/sglaw/> accessed 6 May 2017.
 Tan Eng Hong v Attorney General  SGHC 199. See also the later ruling by the Singapore Court of Appeal in Lim Meng Suang and another v Attorney General  SGCA 53.
 ACB v Thomson Medical and Others  SGHC 36. At the time of writing, the case is on appeal.
 Maintenance of Parents Act, Act 35 of 1995 (1996) (Sing.).
 G Bell, ‘The Singapore Legal System in Context – Whither the Concept of a National Legal System’, in Kevin YL Tan (ed), The Singapore Legal System (2nd ed, Singapore University Press 1999)..
 ‘Local’ meant Malaysian as well as Singaporean cases (Singapore was part of Malaysia from 1963-5 and shared many legal facets and judicial traditions with Malaysia). This resonance has obviously become less pronounced as the moment of separation – 9 August 1965 – further recedes in time.
 To be fair, passing reference was also made to the Japanese legal system and those of Indonesia and the Philippines, although none of these featured prominently in the content actually studied.
 As per the Administration of Muslim Law Act, Act No. 27 of 1966, § 39, 145 (2010) (Sing.); see also Ahmad Nizam bin Abbas, ‘The Islamic Legal system in Singapore’ (2012) 21 Pacific Rim Law and Policy Journal 163.
 M Chen, ‘Legal Transplant and Undue Influence: Lost in Translation or A Working Misunderstanding?’ (2013) 62 Int’l Comp L Q 1.
 The chapter on religion in W-C Chang and others (eds), Constitutionalism in Asia (Hart Publishing 2014) offers an accessible introduction to the salient issues.
 According to the 2007 VK Rajah Report (n 7) at p 11, para 2.32: ‘Subjects should be considered “core” they equip the student with fundamental legal precepts and knowledge that allow the student to progress on to other more specialist subject areas.’
 Indeed, participants at the first International Congress of Comparative Law, organised on the sidelines of the Paris World Exposition in 1900, emphasised the role of comparative law in preparing ‘a common law for the civilised world’.
 Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, art 340.
 See notably M Bussani and U Mattei, ‘The Common Core Approach to the European Private Law’ (1997) 3 Columbia Journal of European Law 339; ‘The Common Core of European Private Law’ <www.common-core.org> accessed 7 May 2017.
 See eg Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, arts 67(3), 67(4), 81(1), 82(1).
 The balance between civil law and common law jurisdictions is also more even in Asia than in Europe, where the number of civil law countries far outweighs the number of common law states.
 Menon (n 4) 244.
 Hwang (n 17).
 Andrew Harding, ‘Comparative Law and Legal Transplantation in South East Asia: Making Sense of the “Nomic Din”’ in D Nelken, and J Feest (eds) Adapting Legal Cultures (Hart Publishing 2001).
 For instance in the area of land law, see Daryono, ‘The Transformation of Land Law in Indonesia: The Persistence of Pluralism’ (2010) 5 Asian J Comp L 1.
 Federal Constitution of Malaysia, art 121(1A).
 See eg the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act, Act No 26 of 1990 (2001) (Sing.), discussed in J Rajah, ‘Policing Religion: Discursive Excursions into Singapore’s Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act’ in P Nicholson, P (ed), Examining Practice, Interrogating Theory: Comparative Legal Studies in Asia (Martinis Nijhoff 2008); Thio Li-ann, ‘Control, Co-optation and Co-operation: Managing Religious Harmony in Singapore’s Multi-Ethnic, Quasi-Secular State’ (2006) 33 Hastings Const L Q 197.
 H Ault and MA Glendon, ‘The Importance of Comparative Law in Legal Education: United States Goals and Methods of Legal Comparison’ (1975) 27 Journal of Legal Education 599, 600.
 See McConnaughay’s chapter in this volume.
 There are exceptions at NUS in some cases, where the teaching teams feel that the subject is best taught in a ‘lecture-tutorial’ format, with labour-intensive attention to small-group tutorials of around 10 students.
 These responses are assessed and weighted at 50% of the final grade. The other 50% is based on a take-home examination with answers submitted online within a few hours.
 M Reimann and R Zimmermann (eds), The Oxford Handbook of Comparative Law (OUP 2012).
 JM Smits (ed), Elgar Encyclopedia on Comparative Law (2nd edn, Edward Elgar 2012).
 K Zweigert and H Kötz, An Introduction to Comparative Law (Tony Weir tr, 3rd edn, OUP 1998).
 C Saunders, 'The Impact of Internationalisation on National Constitutions' in A Chen (ed), Constitutionalism in Asia in the Early Twenty-First Century (Cambridge University Press 2014) 412.
 See eg J Husa, A New Introduction to Comparative Law (Hart Publishing 2015); M Siems, Comparative Law (Cambridge University Press 2014) - although to be fair, both authors do make reference to non-Western systems on several occasions.
 Myanmar offers a good example in this regard. For a good introduction to that country’s evolving legal system see M Crouch and T Lindsey (eds), Law, Society and Transition in Myanmar (Hart Publishing 2014).
 Men generally have to complete two years of national service before commencing their university studies.
 Their backgrounds are as follows: British citizen trained in common law but with an LLM from NUS and expertise in Asian comparative law (PhD in law from Australia); Canadian citizen trained in the civil law and having expertise in Asian laws (LLM from the US); Canadian citizen trained in the common law and an expert in Islamic law (PhD from the UK); US citizen trained in the common law system and expert in Chinese and comparative law (degrees from US, but taught in several jurisdictions including China); Chinese citizen trained in Chinese law and expert in corporate law (PhD in law from NUS); Taiwan citizen trained in civil law (PhD from US); Vietnamese citizen trained in civil law and expert in comparative constitutional law (PhD from University of Hong Kong).
 Their backgrounds are as follows: Dutch citizen trained in civil law, but with an LLM from Oxford and expert in comparative constitutional law (PhD in law from the Netherlands); Indian citizen trained in common law (degrees from India, the UK and the US); American citizen trained in history, economics and law with professional work experience in a civil law jurisdiction; Sri Lankan citizen, trained in common law and with some work experience in civil law jurisdictions.
 On the US experience in this regard, see U Mattei, ‘Some Realism about Comparativism: Comparative Law Teaching in the Hegemonic Jurisdiction’ (2002) 50 American Journal of Comparative Law 87.
 An indicative list of modules presently offered that fall within this cluster includes: Chinese Corporate and Securities Law; Chinese Legal Tradition and Legal Chinese; Contract and Commercial Law in Civil-Law Asia; Foreign Direct Investment Law in Asia; Introduction to Indonesian Law; Japanese Corporate Law & Governance; Islamic Law; Law, Governance and Development in Asia; Law and Development in China; and others. Not all of these modules are taught every year.
 Electives that are part of this cluster include Chinese Contract Law; Introduction to Chinese History, Culture, Economics and Law; Law and Policy of Ethnic Relations in Singapore; Foundations of ASEAN Law and Policy; and the Law Study Missions to several Asian jurisdictions.
 For instance, NUS and SMU have, over the years, employed full-time faculty with knowledge of many the region’s legal systems (China, India, Japan, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Taiwan, and Islamic law experts; but not including, so far, Thailand, Vietnam, Philippines, and some others.)