2022 Tang Prize in Rule of Law Awarded to Australian Comparative Constitutional Law Scholar Cheryl Saunders

Prof. Jiunn-Rong Yeh, chair of the Selection for Rule of Law, announces the winner of the 2022 Tang Prize in Rule of Law. 

Renowned law scholar Cheryl Saunders was named winner of the 2022 Tang Prize in Rule of Law at a press conference held at the Tang Prize Foundation on June 21. In the citation, the Selection Committee praises Professor Saunders for “her pioneering contributions to comparative constitutional law, and in particular her work on constitution-building in the Asia-Pacific region, by applying her scholarship to inspire and advise constitution-making exercises, often under challenging circumstances, and by consistently broadening the boundaries of comparative constitutional law scholarship through active engagement, dialogue and collaboration with scholars and political actors at home and abroad.”

In his opening remarks, Dr. Jenn-Chuan Chern, CEO of the Tang Prize Foundation, reminded the audience that the principles underlining the Tang Prize in Rule of Law are to “encompass due process and substantive justice” and to “champion peace, human rights, and sustainable development in order to serve the common good of humankind and nature.” He also thanked the Selection Committee and its chair, Professor Jiunn-Rong Yeh, for their tireless efforts to reward “individuals and organization for their great contributions to the realization of the rule of law.” By doing so, the Foundation hopes more people will be encouraged to work together for a better future.    

In her introduction to the 2022 laureate in Rule of Law, Professor Wen-Chen Chang, professor at the College of Law of National Taiwan University, referred to Professor Saunders as an “academic practitioner” who “applies her scholarship to inspire and advise constitution-making exercise.” She adopts a methodology to study comparative constitutional law that is inclusive of constitutional experience all over the globe. Her collaboration with networks of experts and scholars in the Asia-Pacific and her engagement in the constitution-building in that region and elsewhere have broadened her horizons of knowledge of constitutional experience around the world, and given her insight into how comparative constitutional knowledge can be shared most usefully. In particular, her work in the Asia-Pacific region is characterized by her respect for local contexts and decision makers. 

By embracing local histories and cultures and understating different political systems, she has been able to identity constitutional priorities, issues and options from a local perspective. To elaborate on the reasons for awarding Professor Saunders the prize, Professor Yeh reiterated that not only does she have an impressive academic repertoire, she is also admirable for her determination to put ideas into practice, and take actions to realized her ideals about constitutionalism, especially in places where building a foundation for constitutionalization has been a rather daunting task. When answering media’s questions, Professor Chang described Professor Saunders as warm, approachable, and always going to great lengths to encourage junior scholars. Therefore, wherever she visited, a new community of aspiring law scholars would often emerge because of the inspiration she provided.  

Responding to the news of the award, Professor Saunders said she was “overwhelmed” and “very humbled,” adding that she knows the other recipients of Rule of Law and admires them all tremendously. She thinks the former laureates are “very different people” and “their contributions to the rule of law have been very different, very profound.” Therefore, she was “humbled, a little bit shocked,” but also “very honored.” As a comparative constitutional lawyer, Professor Saunders stressed that comparative constitutional law could help “identify opportunities and possibilities for change,” improve “our systems of governance,” and “build a basis for collective action.” But “to do any of this,” she noted, “we need to ensure…that we are inclusive in the countries that we consider” and that we “develop a genuine mutual understanding to really understand each other’s systems of governance and the way in which we think about them.” In a post-announcement joint interview, Professor Saunders summarized the core value of the rule of law as not being subject to arbitrary power, which, regardless of how different the contexts are in different parts of the world, should be one of the broad consensuses that bind us together.  

Established in 2012, the biennial Tang Prize celebrates its 10 anniversary this year. In 2014, the inaugural Tang Prize in Rule of Law was presented to Justice Albie Sachs. Lauded for his contributions to the protection of human rights and justice globally, he is recognized in particular for his efforts to realize the rule of law to create a free and democratic South Africa. Madame Justice Louise Arbour was named the recipient of the prize in 2016. Among the important positions she held are chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, president of the International Crisis Group, and the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for International Migration.

Madame Justice Arbour is well-respected as a leading figure in the global constitutional and legal protection of human rights, civil liberties, rights of war victims as well as the oppressed. In 2018, the prize was awarded to Professor Joseph Raz. As one of the most foremost legal philosophers of our time, Prof. Raz was known for his critical thinking and rigorous analysis that has deepened our understanding of the nature of law, of legal reasoning, and of the relationship between law, freedom, and morality. In 2020, the Tang Prize honored three non-profit organizations: Lebanon’s The Legal Agenda, Colombia’s Dejusticia: The Center for Law, Justice and Society, and Bangladesh’s The Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association. All based in places where the foundations of the rule of law are under severe challenge, they have shown remarkable perseverance in pursuing individual, social, and environmental justice and in furthering the rule of law through innovative strategic litigation, education, and advocacy.