Louis de Villiers van Winsen 1992


Louis de Villiers van Winsen was born at Komga on 3 December 1909. He matriculated at Grey High School in Port Elizabeth. In 1929 he obtained the B.A. degree at the University of Stellenbosch and in 1931 the LLB. cum laude. He played a prominent role in student affairs and was, amongst other things, President of a national students' organisation.

After a period as a judge's clerk, he was for a number of years from 1933 a legal adviser to the City Council of Cape Town. In 1936 he became a member of the Cape Bar. Alter only eleven years he became senior counsel (QC) in 1947. In 1951 he was appointed as a judge in Cape Town and in 1961 as a judge of appeal.

In 1963 he of his own accord left Bloemfontein to return to the Cape court, partly for health reasons and on account of his love of living at the sea. He subsequently acted as judge of appeal in Bloemfontein for several years. In 1979 he retired from the Bench. From 1985 he served as senior judge of appeal in the Appeal Court of the Ciskei for quite a few years.

Both in the Cape and in the Appeal Court Judge Van Winsen soon showed that he was one of South Africa's most proficient and creative judges. He wrote numerous judgments on diverse matters, many of which were leading cases and exerted an influence on the subsequent administration of justice. He is completely bilingual and possesses not only a very good knowledge of contemporary law, but also a profound understanding of the prin­ciples of the common law.

Louis van Winsen early manifested his talent as an author. In 1940 he and the late Dr T.E. Donges published an authoritative work Municipal Law, of which a subsequent edition appeared later.

In 1954 Judges Van Winsen and Herbstein published a work entitled The Civil Practice of the Superior Courts in South Africa. This was a vast work which immediately became authoritative in the legal profession and amongst academics. A fourth revised edition is nearing completion. Judge Van Winsen's status led to his appointment in 1959 by the then Minister of Justice as chair­man of a commission of inquiry directed to revise and to consoli­date on a national footing the different provincial rules of court which governed civil procedure in the Supreme Court, with the aim of simplifying litigation and restricting the costs of legal pro­ceedings. Judge of Appeal Galgut, in referring to the Van Winsen commission in the report of a more recent commission of inquiry, stated:·" ... Mr Justice Van Winsen was regarded by everyone as one of the most knowledgeable men in the Republic in matters affecting the constitution of our courts and matters procedural."

Judge Van Winsen's labour bore fruit when the so-called uniform rules of court for South Africa came into effect in 1965. They were to a large extent his creation. The rules prepared by his commission remain the underlying foundation of Supreme Court litigation in South Africa. These rules are also reflected in subsequent editions of the book referred to, which is constantly cited in the Supreme Court as authoritative.

In this way Judge Van Winsen has made an exceptional scientific contribution to the develop­ment of the South African law of civil procedure in particular, and justice in the courts in general. In this regard Professor Ellison Kahn has stated the following in the South African Law Journal: "Mr Justice Van Winsen whose retirement from the bench on the 2nd December 1980, was such a loss to the judiciary, may look back with justifiable pride on this splendid tome which bears his name as co-author, as he may look back with pride on his chair­manship of the Commission of Enquiry appointed in 1959, the recommendations of which resulted in 1965 in the uniform rules of court for provincial and local divisions of the supreme court."

Judge Van Winsen has also made a contribution to cultural mat­ters. He was a member of the Board of Trustees of the South African Library and was its chairman for a decade. In addition he has been a committee member and/or president of various charit­able and educational institutions. He also chaired the Board of Trustees of the South African Art Gallery, as well as being the first Chairman of the Media Council, where he made an important contribution in a difficult office.

Louis van Winsen married Patricia Lord in 1937 and the couple had three daughters. He has always shown a special love for the sea. As Director of the National Sea Rescue Institute he carried out pioneering work. He was later President of the Royal Cape Yacht Club, a Trustee of the South African Ocean Racing Trust and an organiser of the first Cape to Rio de Janeiro Race.

It is fitting that it should be the University of Port Elizabeth that is honouring Judge Van Winsen for the contribution that he has made over more than fifty years as a jurist and academic author in South Africa, since he completed his school career in Port Eliza­beth and, just like the University and its heraldic emblem, has a close association with the sea. The conferring of the degree of LLD. honoris causa on Louis van Winsen crowns a life of fruitful and selfless service to the South African judicial system.