Evidence Conference Brings Together Reformers from around the World

April 27, 2015

Despite thousands of miles, different languages, and distinct cultures, China and Tanzania share a common bond: Northwestern Law professor Ronald Allen has been a significant force in shaping evidence law in both countries. Last November, scholars from around the world came to Northwestern Law School for “The Foundations of the Law of Evidence and Their Implications for Developing Countries,” a two-day conference examining the challenges of law reform in third world countries with a particular focus on reform movements concerning the law of evidence in Tanzania and China.

Over 12 years ago, Allen was approached by Chinese legal scholars who were essentially building the country’s legal knowledge from scratch after the Cultural Revolution wiped out the previous legal system completely. Allen makes multiple trips to China every year and has hosted over 40 scholars at Northwestern Law, teaching Chinese academics the field of evidence. In 2014, he received the China Friendship Award, the highest award the People’s Republic of China gives to honor non-Chinese nationals.

Four years ago, Allen was approached by Dr. Edward Hoseah, a senior government official and leader of Tanzania’s Prevention and Combating of Corruption Bureau, to assist with evaluating and reforming the Tanzanian evidence code, which had remained largely unchanged since its creation as a British colonial statue based on evidence rules adopted by India in 1872. Allen involved his students in the project and ended up developing an entirely new set of rules of evidence for the country. They presented their proposal to Tanzania’s highest court in the spring of 2014, and the justices unanimously recommended Tanzania’s parliament adopt the rules.

Allen created the conference as an opportunity to bring these two projects together, where officials from the two countries could learn from each other and benefit from the expertise of outside scholars.

Edward Hoseah presents at the Evidence Law Conference held at Northwestern Law
Edward Hoseah, who serves as director of Tanzania's Prevention and Combating of Corruption Bureau, talks about working with Professor Allen and his students during a panel discussion on the project.

“These two projects were like parallel roads, never intersecting. It seemed to me, and to others I talked to, that it might be fruitful for all concerned to make them intersect,” Allen said. “So the conference was the intersection of these two projects, with the critical actors from both China and Tanzania present, presenting papers and also able to interact. We had a stellar collection of scholars from across the world—from every continent except Antarctica—here to comment and critique and assist with these projects.”

“The conference provided fascinating insight into how evidence is treated both conceptually and legislatively in a diverse array of jurisdictions around the world,” said Sara Andrews (JD ’04), senior international pro bono counsel for DLA Piper.

Allen was struck by both the differences and similarities between the two countries and their approaches and understanding of evidence law.

“How eclectic the perspectives can be on a particular field, how diverse and different they can be, was interesting because it was presented in a very distilled fashion,” he said. “But at the same time, people share pretty much the same aspirations to a certain conception of the rule of law.”

Allen noted that the experiences of scholars in both countries have been very different. While the Chinese had to learn everything from scratch, the Tanzanians may have had the more challenging road.

“There’s a reform movement and you can see their desire to really make a substantial contribution to the well-being of their country, but unlike the Chinese, the Tanzanians have to rethink everything. They have to unlearn what they thought they knew, and in some ways the Tanzanians have the more difficult project.”

Already the conference has helped take the projects to the next level, helping the countries achieve real reform and offering unparalleled opportunities for Northwestern Law students. After attending, Judge Aloysius Mujulizi, who chairs the Tanzania Law Reform Commission, scheduled a conference to assess the proposal. Allen and his students traveled to Tanzania for the conference in May, where students were assigned to small breakout groups of Tanzania’s high-ranking attorneys, judges, and lawmakers to explain the proposals. At the conclusion of the conference, Mujulizi announced he would be preparing the proposal for presentation to Tanzania’s parliament.

“These two projects are indicative of the international work and global reach that the Law School is having,” said Allen. “The Law School is participating in the global community in a very effective way. Students are meeting with the highestmembers of each of the branches of government, and the chief justice is now one of the most ardent supporters of this project. The students are meeting with these people, not just shaking their hands, but having to explain to them why these proposals are being made, which means you have to understand Tanzanian law, you have to understand your own law, you have to understand what you’re recommending.”