Name : U Maung Maung Wai
Career : Advocate
MI : How did you start your career as a civil lawyer?
I started working as a lawyer in 1997. In law major, there are two parts, criminal and civ- il. I have learned what I was interested in. In criminal cases, a lawyer fails if his case is lost and his client goes to jail. Also, court proceedings are usually late. Court hearings are sometimes delayed for hours because of late arrival of witness and defendant. In civil cases, it is late for mostly 10 or 15mins. And I am sure I cannot stand when my cli- ent goes to jail. So, I chose civil part and work as a civil lawyer since 1998-99. A civil lawyer needs to learn more than a criminal one and civil law concerns everyone from birth to death. For example, civil law covers building a road, properties, farms… and so on. For that reasons, I became a civil lawyer.
MI: What is your education back- ground?
During my time there were two major streams – Arts and Science after Grade 9. I attended Arts major at Grade 10 and after passing Matriculation Exam, I could choose between two main professional majors, Eco and Law. And my parents thought that there should be a lawyer among our four brothers, so I chose Law major.
MI: What kind of cases have you han- dled the most?
The first two most common ones are in- heritance law suits and then divorce cases. Third one is the case about construction and money matters. People lend money to their friends without contract. When these friends are not paying back, they sue at the court. Most of the money problems happen in between friends. Naturally, people need to use the contract whenever they do busi- ness with strangers. Ordinarily, nobody discuss with a lawyer before doing business, however, only when a problem comes out, they go to the lawyer. This kind of habit can save the initial cost but it’s like a blind walking. In the developed countries, busi- nesspersons are always in touch with the lawyers.
MI: How long do you usually prepare for trials?
If I handle the case from the side of plaintiff, there is a Limitation Act, which case can be sued within a certain number of years. I can build a case after meeting two months with a client. Within two months, the client will talk about the case, I take notes and check with the relevant laws, and also prepare strong and weak points for my client’s side.
When I handle a case, I usually start think- ing from the negative side i.e., I assume this man is lying and then I try to find the facts which will protect him. If I take the positive approach, it would not give me such useful facts. At the court, the facts I have prepared and details mentioned in the contract be- tween two parties are important.
MI: Could you tell me one of the most remarkable cases that you have ever handled?
It has to be my first case. In my early days in legal career, I did not choose between civil and criminal case. So, my first case is a criminal case, it is about smuggling weap- ons from Barr Street Weapon factory. I was hearing the case at Inn Sein Jail. At that time I just started working as a lawyer and I was a lawyer for defendant in that case. I had no prior experience in the internship period. After that, I got used to it.
MI: What is the biggest challenge did you face as a civil lawyer in Myanmar?
From my point of view, our civil law is a lit- tle bit weak. From the colonial period, our common laws were based on the British sys- tem and there is no loophole in their crim- inal law. If someone breaks the law, he will be punished definitely.
On the civil side, in my opinion, cases are being between people and civil laws are not strictly set. To handle a civil case, judges make decisions based on the previous simi lar cases. Supreme Court of the Union from Nay Pyi Taw annually produces a book of ruling as Myanmar Law Report.
MI: Have you ever been harmed by a contestant in a civil suit?
In a case, the other party can consider my client as an enemy and also dislike me as his lawyer. But I have not been attacked phys- ically yet. Sometimes, I notice the strange things in clients who come to the court. Some clients wear eugenia leaves on the head and some bring leaves in their bag. Perhaps they follow an astrologer’s advice. I have seen that even in my clients and de- fendants. Sometimes, I heard that there are fights in the court when lawyers ask ques- tions which are difficult to answer.
MI: Please tell me about one of your hardest cases but succeed at last?
It happened in Mandalay before I got a lot of experiences as a lawyer. We lost in court of region, state and distinct. I thought I was right and the other side thought he was right. At that time, I did not think that I would win and I decided to appeal if I lost. But I won at Supreme Court.
MI: Lately, people said the Judiciary sector is not performing well. What do you think about that?
When speaking about international stan- dard, average salary of a judge is enough to support the whole family. Then the judges will not take bribe. So, I think that the qual- ity of judiciary sector depends on the salary of judges.
MI: How can Intellectual Property (IP) law be important in Myanmar?
Later, copy right will become important in Myanmar. Here there are a lot of pirat- ed copies. Once an original production is released, it is followed by a lot of pirated copies. Most people are waiting for pirated copies because original ones are expensive.
MI: I heard that ASEAN free trade area will start in 2015. What do you think about that?
The more a country exports, the more op- portunities they get. For example, Singapore exports its products to Myanmar with free tax and they will get profits. So, Myanmar will lose the tax. To recover that loss, we have to try to export our products to others.
MI: Can a foreigner marry a Myanmar girl in local court legally?
Initially, a lawyer has a right to perform mar- riage. Later, most of the girls were traded illegally and then there was no more permis- sion. But if the permit is stopped, they will marry illegally and the losers will be Myan- mar girls, they can lose properties. Current- ly, a district judge has the authority to marry a foreigner and Myanmar nationals but they would not want to be responsible and refer the case up to Supreme Court of the Union. The reason is that the marriage contract has to be reported to Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) if a Myanmar spouse wants to fol- low the foreign partner to the foreign coun- try. MoFA then asks Nay Pyi Taw Supreme Court and the Supreme Court, in turn, calls that judge to Nay Pyi Taw to confirm if the marriage contract is true. So, foreigners can also marry Myanmar girls legally at the Su- preme Court of the Union.
MI: What would be the legal require- ments to establish a new company?
It would be difficult for the business per- sons to understand the laws. Therefore, they should have their own lawyer before form- ing a company.
MI: A foreigner can buy a house as their investment in Myanmar official- ly, what kind of law controls it? These laws cover the monopoly or protect
for local citizens? Foreigners are not allowed to buy a proper- ty, house and greenfield in Myanmar. In Ja- pan and Singapore, there is no more green- field and their citizens are rich. If we allow, our land will not left and Myanmar can be disappear. So, there are many problems in here. Foreigners buy a place by using the name of a local to establish a company. It is ok when they are on good terms. If they are not ok, the local will possess the place.
MI: How do you see civil cases in Myanmar compare with the cases from other countries?
The cases are not very different. Basically, there are same crime if someone offends the same case. Only the sections will be different.
MI: If you could change any law of Myanmar, what would it be?
I will amend the laws that is required to be amended and change if laws needed to be changed in Administration, Judiciary and Legislation sectors.
MI: What advice would you give to foreigner who looking to start up a business and invest in Myanmar in your point of view?
Find the market in here, do your business and also pay the tax regularly. Then, there will be a win-win situation, foreigners will get the profit and unemployment in Myan- mar will decrease too. So, I welcome for- eigners coming here to do business.