Arthur Chaskalson 2002


Arthur Chaskalson career is inextricably linked to the transformation of the legal system in South Africa. Through his work as an advocate, as co-founder of the Legal Resource Centre, as an internationally recognised expert on constitutional law, as President of the Constitutional Court and now South Africa's Chief Justice, he has played a significant role in challenging apartheid laws and in the birth of a democracy based on the rule of law.

Arthur Chaskalson was born in Johannesburg on 24 November 1931. He received his BCom and LLB (cum laude) degrees from the University of the Witwatersrand and was admitted to the Johannesburg Bar in 1956, taking silk in 1971. He appeared as counsel for members of the liberation movements in several major political trials, including the Rivonia Trial in 1963/64.

He gave up a lucrative career as a senior advocate in 1978 to help establish the Legal Resource Centre, a non-profit organisation which sought to use the law to pursue justice and human rights in South Africa. During his time as national director of the Centre, from 1978 to 1993, he was leading counsel in several cases challenging the implementation of apartheid laws.

In the arena of constitutional law, he was a consultant to the Namibian Constituent Assembly on the drafting of that country's new constitution between 1989 and 1990, consulted for the African National Congress on constitutional issues from 1990 to 1994, and was a member of the Technical Committee on Constitutional Issues, appointed in May 1993 by the Multi Party Negotiating Forum to advise on constitutional matters during the negotiations around the transition to democracy in South Africa.

With the adoption of South Africa's first democratic constitution, the Constitutional Court was established in 1994 and Judge Chaskalson became its first President. He became the Chief Justice of South Africa in 2001 when the Constitution was amended to make the President of the Constitutional Court, instead of the President of the Appeal Court as in the past, the Chief Justice.

On the values enshrined in South Africa's Constitution, he has said: "The rule of law, dignity, equality and freedom are foundations on which we can build our future. We need to have an understanding of what these values mean, and a commitment to respect them in our day-to-day lives and in our dealings with each other. We should constantly be reminded of these values and we should condemn conduct inconsistent with them. But above all we must, as the Constitution requires us to do, learn to act as equal members of a national community, with a concern not only for our own welfare, but for the welfare of us all."

Judge Chaskalson has distinguished himself in numerous leadership positions in the legal profession. He chaired the Johannesburg Bar Council twice (1976 and 1982) and was vice-chairman of the General Council of the Bar of South Africa from 1982 to 1987. He has held the position of joint honorary president of the General Council since 1994, and has been the vice-chairman of the Judicial Service Commission since 1995. He was a long-standing member of the National Council of Lawyers for Human Rights, from 1980 to 1991. He was an honorary professor in the School of Law at his alma mater from 1981 to 1994 and has been a member of the Faculty Board there since 1979.

An internationally recognised jurist, he served as vice-chairman of the International Legal Aid Division of the International Bar Association from 1983 to 1993, and since 1995 has been a commissioner of the Council of the International Commission of Jurists. Since 1999 he has been one of South Africa's four members of the Permanent Court of Arbitration. He has participated in and delivered papers on human rights and legal services issues at numerous conferences and seminars locally and abroad.

His expertise and service have been recognised with honorary degrees from the universities of Natal and the Witwatersrand. He is an honorary member of the bar associations of New York City and Boston, and received the Human Rights Award for 1990 from the Foundation for Freedom and Human Rights in Switzerland.

The awarding of the degree Doctor Legum honoris causa to the Honourable Mr Justice Arthur Chaskalson is in recognition of the critical role he played, both before and after 1994, in the development and consolidation of a new legal system based on human dignity, the achievement of equality and the advancement of human rights and freedom for all South Africans.