'Activating' the powers of law in the South Pacific

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    There is a global trend of increasing expectations and demands on law to bring about social change. In the two main areas I have researched for the past ten years—the regulation and protection of intellectual property and traditional knowledge in the Pacific Islands (Forsyth and Farran 2015), and overcoming sorcery accusation related violence in Melanesia (Forsyth and Eves 2015)—legal solutions have been at the forefront of debates and proposed actions. Legal solutions are also very much part of proposed approaches to many significant development issues facing the region, such as gender based violence, urbanisation and resource exploitation, leading to an explosion of pieces of legislation in recent years. As an established scholar of Pacific islands legal systems, I have spent over a decade critiquing what I have termed the 'mythscape' surrounding state law in the region, and articulating reasons to look beyond state law in crafting new regulatory responses to development challenges. These reasons include the limited reach of the state, the relative foreignness of the common law system for the populations concerned, and the richness of customary and other non-state legal systems. However, when critiquing the over-reliance on the law as a development tool, it is important not to swing too far in the opposite direction and neglect the role of the state legal system. Today more than ever, state law is seldom unimportant or irrelevant, and often has a range of unexpected effects even in the most geographically remote locations. Rather than either assuming that state law is a silver bullet for development or dismissing it as largely irrelevant, what is instead required is an analytical framework that provide insights into the actual role(s) of state law in the South Pacific today, and its relationship with other legal and normative orders.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)140-144
    JournalDevelopment Bulletin (Canberra)
    Issue number80
    Publication statusPublished - 2018


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