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What has made the work so thorny (and fascinating) is that Robinson and his students had to harmonize the principles of Sharia, the Koran-inspired text on which Maldivian law is based, into a modern code with universal tenets of criminal law.
And by all accounts, students found that challenge extremely rewarding, spurring them to work up to 12 hours a week, outside class, on the code, which includes extensive commentary that explains
"What I learned is that an Islamic criminal law system looks a lot like an American system, with a few variations based on specific cultural ideas or norms," says Negar Katirai, a third-year, Iranian-born law student who accompanied Robinson to the Maldives as part of the project.
Thomas Stenson, who has also made the trip (Glen Tobias W’63, L’66 funded students’ travel), says the seminar has been a one-of-a-kind experience. "Not only has this been a great research project and a great opportunity, but we’ve explored every single aspect of criminal law," says Stenson, a 3L who helped write the theft and kidnapping statutes.
In fact, the work of Robinson and his "legal team" has been so well received that it has spawned the Criminal Law Research Group, in which students are helping the state of Kansas with penal code reform and doing policy analysis for the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency. Even the Maldivians are back for more — they have asked the class to produce sentencing guidelines, rules of criminal procedure and prosecutorial
Despite the carping of critics, who question the wisdom of working with a government that has a spotty human rights record, Robinson remains focused on the outcome. "If the net effect of this is to improve the quality of justice for the Maldivian people, I would be absolutely thrilled. If it turns out that it helps inspire other Muslim countries to write comprehensive criminal codes — codes that incorporate some international norms that they might not otherwise have — well, that’s just frosting on the cake."