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Judicial Loyalty to the Military in Authoritarian Regimes: How the Courts Are Militarized in Myanmar

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 September 2022

Melissa Crouch*
Professor at the Faculty of Law & Justice, the University of New South Wales, Australia. Email:


While scholars have considered the role of courts in authoritarian regimes generally, less attention has been paid to judicial-military relations. In this article I consider how courts are militarized and made subordinate and loyal to military rule. In military regimes, the courts are at risk of militarization and the process of rendering judges loyal to the military through practices such as career path socialization, selection, and restructuring of the courts. This raises an entry-exit dilemma for judges. The dilemma lies in the fact that if judges committed to civilian rule do not join the bench, they are potentially leaving the judiciary to military partisans with little prospect for reform. Yet joining the judiciary means the danger of being co-opted and adding legitimacy to the military regime or the risk of being forced out if politics shifts from civilian to military rule. Through a case study of judicial profiles in Myanmar, I explore how the loyalty of judges to the military depends on whether they are military insiders, military affiliates, civilian affiliates, or civilian outsiders. The case of Myanmar is a vivid reminder to scholars of judicial behavior that in military authoritarian regimes, judges face an entry-exit dilemma.

© The Author(s), 2022. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the American Bar Foundation

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This article was funded by an Australian Research Council Discovery Project (DP180100772) on Constitutional Change in Authoritarian Regimes. In 2019, I benefited from the National Library of Australia Asia Fellowship and the opportunity to use its Burmese language sources. Empirical projects of this kind are made possible by access to such unique and crucial library collections. This project is the culmination of work with the judiciary from 2011 to 2021. I would like to thank Sai Myint Aung for his research assistance in 2020 in compiling some of the data for this project. There are many others I would like to thank but cannot name, due to the military coup in Myanmar. I would like to thank Theunis Roux for his incisive and thorough comments on an earlier version of this article. I also thank Jonathan Bonnitcha, Amy Cohen, and Sida Liu for their comments.



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