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Australian Journal of Asian Law

Abstract from Volume 10 No 1 (2008)

Beyond a Clash of Cultures: Schapelle Corby's "My Story" and Comparable High Profile Criminal Trials

Katharine McGregor is Senior Lecturer in Southeast Asian History in the School of Historical Studies, University of Melbourne. Her book History in Uniform: Military Ideology and the Construction of Indonesia’s Past, was published by Singapore University Press in conjunction with KITLV and the Asian Studies Association of Australia in February 2007.
C R Pennell is an Associate Professor in the School of Historical Studies, University of Melbourne, and Al-Tajir Lecturer in Middle Eastern History. He is the author of, among other books,
Morocco since 1830: a History (London and New York: New York University Press, 2001).

This article examines the way in which the case of Schapelle Corby was presented both in her own book and in the media more generally.  It compares the presentation of this case with similar examples of high profile trials of individuals accused of crimes in foreign countries.  These include people from ‘Western’ countries accused in Asian and Middle Eastern courts, but also Asians accused in other Asian states, and Middle Easterners tried and punished in other countries in the region.  In doing so, the article argues that, while the rhetoric that surrounds them draws upon civilisational clashes for its language, the cases can be better explained in terms of domestic political controversies and attempts to draw sympathy, rather than international standoffs.  An examination of the variety of local responses shows that an explanation of these cases in terms of civilisational clash or legal Orientalism is inadequate.  The article argues that the stories of defendants are regularly swamped by these wider agendas, so that their cultural identity is called into question.  It suggests that a pre-modern principle – that of‘personality of law’ – may be a useful starting point in understanding the potency of these cases.  This principle held that individuals were to be judged by their own laws wherever they might be, that foreigners carried their own laws with them.  This converged with concepts of immunity from foreign law that resulted from colonial rule.  Thus responses to these cases were not simply cultural standoffs, instead they became fora for the complex negotiation of issues of identity, nation and law, emblematised by conflicting cultural narratives.

(2008) 10(1) Asian Law 26

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