Sally Frances Low

Dec 15, 2023

Colonial Law Making

Cambodia Under the French

National University of Singapore Press 2023

In 1863 the French established a protectorate over the kingdom of Cambodia. The protectorate, along with Vietnam and Laos, later became part of the colonial state of French Indochina. Part of the French ‘civilizing mission’ in Cambodia involved reforming Cambodian law and legal processes. 

Sally Low’s pioneering study, Colonial Law Making: Cambodia under the French (NUS Press, 2023), tells the story of the encounter between what she calls two different legal and social ‘cosmologies’: Cambodia’s indigenous legal tradition and modern French legal thinking. While the French claimed they were modernizing Cambodian law, in fact they imposed many elements of French law. Initially, they dispossessed the king of much of his judicial authority. But ironically, the French reform of Cambodian law retained the monarchy as the semi-divine source of law, and royal power was subsequently legally embedded into new national institutions, the law, and the constitutions. At independence in 1953, 90 years after the French began their protectorate, Cambodia’s King Sihanouk inherited this legal apparatus which had done so much to enhance the power of the executive over the judiciary.

Patrick Jory teaches Southeast Asian History in the School of Historical and Philosophical Inquiry at the University of Queensland. He can be reached at: p.jory@uq.edu.au.

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Patrick Jory

Patrick Jory teaches Southeast Asian History in the School of Historical and Philosophical Inquiry at the University of Queensland. He can be reached at: p.jory@uq.edu.au.

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