Check-up for Constitution

08 March 2010

Contitution WeekThe right constitution: Judge Arthur Chaskalson (left) and retired Judge Albie Sachs lead discussions on the first day of Constitution Week.

UCT's Democratic Governance and Rights Unit (DGRU) hosted Constitution Week in February - a retrospective series of talks and discussions on the life and times of the Constitutional Court, which marked its 15th anniversary on 14 February.

That anniversary, plus the retirement in 2009 of four of the original eleven judges (Chief Justice Pius Langa, Justice Yvonne Mokgoro, Justice Kate O' Regan and Justice Albie Sachs), made this an ideal time for such a reflection. Over the four days of Constitution Week, delegates examined the court's record up to now, and commented on the legacy of the retiring justices.

The judges have stood up well to the enormous task before them, and have established the court as an internationally admired authority, says the DGRU's Vanja Karth. (A pity, though, that only one of the four new appointees is a woman, she adds.)

"The judges have shown themselves capable of maintaining the court's independence; and have had the courage to make controversial and unpopular rulings that have often upheld claims against other branches of government, ensuring that the separation of powers remains solid."

How they managed to do that was discussed over the week, with contributors including retired judges, scholars and activists.

Panellists debated whether the court is able to hold high-profile public officials to account; experts commented on the performance of the public service in the constitutional era; and other speakers looked at the role civil society has played in bringing landmark human-rights cases before the court.

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