Kwa Geok Choo Distinguished Visitors Lecture: National Constitutions in a Transnational Age

Professor Cheryl Saunders

The Kwa Geok Choo Distinguished Visitors Lecture by Professor Cheryl Saunders was held on 9 February 2017 at NUS Law. Professor Saunders delivered the lecture titled “National Constitutions in a Transnational Age”. Chairing the lecture was Professor Thio Li-ann.

There are emerging signs of ambiguity in the character and function of national constitutions. On the one hand, each Constitution has an umbilical link to a state, for which it is both a symbol and a working instrument of government, reliant for its legitimacy on the people of the state. There is plenty of evidence still for what may be described as the traditional view. On the other hand, the dynamics of globalisation now expose national constitutions to transnational forces to such a degree that there are suggestions that the paradigm is changing or, at least, that a transition of some kind is under way. From this perspective, national constitutions reflect transnational norms and institutions and may be supplemented by them. In a sense, they play a role in the international order from which, in at least some cases, their legitimacy also derives. The apparent tension between these two views of national constitutions is reminiscent of earlier debates about the changing character of states themselves in an interconnected world.

The lecture questioned whether and how these views can be reconciled if, indeed, reconciliation is necessary. The issues at stake have practical significance for the ways in which Constitutions are made and changed, for constitutional design and for the premises that underpin constitutional interpretation. On a more abstract level, they have implications for constitutional theory and comparative constitutional method. They may have flow on effects, as well, for the operations of international institutions and for international law.

NUS Law established the Kwa Geok Choo Distinguished Visitors Programme as one of several initiatives to pay tribute to the late Madam Kwa Geok Choo, wife of Singapore’s founding Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew (LL.D. ’13, Honoris Causa). Under this programme, leading law academics are invited to teach a course at NUS and deliver public lectures on topical legal issues.

From left: Professor Simon Chesterman, Dean of NUS Law, Professor Cheryl Saunders and Professor Thio Li-ann

About the Speaker

Professor Saunders is Laureate Professor Emeritus at Melbourne Law School and the Founding Director of the Centre for Comparative Constitutional Studies.

Professor Saunders has specialist interests in constitutional law and comparative public law, including comparative constitutional method and constitutional design and change, on all of which she has written widely. She is a President Emeritus of the International Association of Constitutional Law and has held visiting positions in leading law schools in many parts of the world including Oxford, Cambridge, Paris II, Fribourg, Trento, Georgetown, Seoul National, Cape Town and Hong Kong. She is presently working on a monograph on comparative constitutional law, around which the subject offered at NUS Law will be structured.