As the representative of Sydney Law School, I was provided the special opportunity to present comparative research on Chinese and Australian law in Beijing, amongst presenters from twelve countries and sixteen law schools.
On the first day of the conference, the participants went sightseeing around Beijing. My first time there, the city was all I hoped it to be - bustling with trucks, smoke and people. We ate Peking duck, visited the Forbidden City and haphazardly navigated the subway network. The highlight of the day was a visit to the Great Wall of China. On a blazingly sunny afternoon, the participants enjoyed the scenic trek up the mountain range and walking along the majestic historic site. As we stumbled over the irregular steps, conversation turned to differences between our respective legal systems. As we scaled the steep incline, a particularly erudite participant gave me a crash course on German ecclesiastical law. On the cable car ride down from the wall, I was introduced to the arbitration system in France. It was exciting and bizarre to be in such a place conversing on complex and new concepts.
Proceedings began early in the morning of the next day, under the theme “Defending the Powerless from the Legal Perspective”. Presentations covered a truly diverse range of topics. Speakers drew attention to the law’s role in protecting consumers, employees, the environment, children, and other vulnerable groups. The countries we came from and their respective legal systems were distinctive and followed different doctrines. Despite this, there existed a common respect for the rule of law, eagerness to right injustices, and an understanding of the necessity to protect those who are unable to defend themselves. Strikingly, the concerns regarding legal reform being debated currently in Australia (such as domestic violence) were being echoed in many other jurisdictions.
In one particularly stirring speech, a presenter spoke of his own experiences adopting his child in the United States. The injustices he perceived in the process and the pressing need for reform had inspired him to study law and head a NGO that advocates on behalf of children during the adoption process. He encouraged all the participants to assist vulnerable persons, but also take an active role in changing the legal landscape.
My own presentation concerned differences between Chinese and Australian approaches to marine environmental protection. Due to overfishing, pollution, global warming and increasing trade flows, our seas are facing unprecedented stresses and degradation. My speech drew attention to issues of multi-level governance and inadequate enforcement of environment protections. My research highlighted that an appreciation of different legal and political systems is essential in finding global and multilateral answers to maritime issues.
On the final day of the conference, the attendees visited Anjie Law Firm and were provided with a tour of the office. The visit showcased the expanding field of intellectual property law, and the role of arbitrations in China.
It was an immense privilege to attend alongside many highly talented early researchers and distinguished professors. Although only spanning a few days, the conference has shown me that societies answer similar problems in diverse ways, and has inspired me to continue researching in the field. Importantly, the experience has shown me that the ends of social justice can gain much by learning from other jurisdictions. My hope is that conferences such as these only become more frequent and expansive, providing a dialogue across countries and enhancing legal reform.
I sincerely thank Professor Vivienne Bath, Professor Bing Ling, and Ms Xu Fei of Renmin University of China, and CAPLUS for providing me with this truly amazing experience.
Stephen is a final year law student, and interned at the Centre for Asian and Pacific Law at the University of Sydney (CAPLUS) in Semester 1, 2016.