What is special about the Constitutional Court?
The Constitutional Court is South Africa's highest court in all matters concerning the Constitution. In fact, only cases that raise a constitutional question reach it. All courts have to protect and uphold the Constitution; however, the judges of the Constitutional Court are the ultimate guardians of South Africa's new culture of human rights and democracy. For more see the role of the Court.
When was it formed?
The Constitutional Court, a product of the interim Constitution, came into being in 1994. The first judges were appointed in the course of that year and the Court was formally opened by President Nelson Mandela on 14 February 1995. For more see the history of the Court.
Who are the Constitutional Court judges?
Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng; Deputy Chief Justice Ray Zondo; Justice Edwin Cameron; Justice Johan Froneman; Justice Chris Jafta; Justice Sisi Khampepe; Justice Mbuyiseli Madlanga; Justice Nonkosi Zoliswa Mhlantla; Justice Bess Nkabinde; Justice Leona Theron
How are the judges chosen?
Section 174 of the Constitution deals with the appointment of judges. First, the Judicial Service Commission draws up a list of candidates. Then the South African president, after consultation with the National Assembly, chooses the judges from this selection. For more see how judges are appointed and the selection of the first judges.
Why was there an interim Constitution and a final Constitution?
The interim Constitution, a temporary measure that ushered in democracy in South Africa, was the product of protracted negotiations between the National Party government, the African National Congress and other parties - and represented the consensus that was reached. The 1994 elections, held under the interim Constitution, chose the Constitutional Assembly, whose task it was to write a final Constitution to replace the interim one.
Where can I get a copy of the Constitution?
You can read each chapter of the Constitution here. The government printer also sells copies.
Where is the Constitutional Court's new building?
In 2004 the Court moved into its new building, the flagship structure of Constitution Hill in Braamfontein, in Johannesburg. The Court's new home is the site of the Old Fort, one of the city's most dramatic historical landmarks. For more see the building.
Can I visit the Court?
The Court welcomes visitors. There is no charge for entering the Court building and hearings are open to the public.
The entire Constitution Hill complex offers everyone - from tourists to families and schoolchildren - a rich experience of South Africa's past and present. There are exhibitions and tours daily between 9am and 5pm (except for Christmas Day and Good Friday). Admission is R15 for adults; R10 for students, schoolchildren and pensioners; and R5 for children under 12 years. Entry is free on Tuesdays. Last tickets are sold at 4pm.
For more see visits to the Court.
Can visitors take pictures of the building?
Yes - it is possible to take pictures of the courtroom when the Court is not in session. Photographs of the other public areas, such as the foyer and the steps, may be taken at any time. However, no flashes are allowed.
When is the Court in session?
The Constitutional Court's judges hear cases during the following periods:
- 1 February to 31 March;
- 1 to 31 May;
- 1 August to 30 September; and
- 1 to 30 November.
Cases of exceptional urgency, however, may be heard at other times. The Court hears argument from 10am to 11:15am, from 11:30am to 1pm and from 2pm to 4pm.
I have a legal concern - can the Court help?
The Constitutional Court, as a court of law, cannot offer legal assistance or advice. If you cannot afford a lawyer, you should contact one of the many justice centres and law clinics around the country for advice. Here are links to organisations that may be able to help.
How can the Constitutional Court help me protect my rights?
The Constitutional Court is the ultimate defender of the human rights laid down in the Bill of Rights. But an aggrieved person should almost always exhaust other options before trying to approach the Constitutional Court. If you wish to use the law to assert your rights you will generally need to begin in the High Court. For more see the role of the Constitutional Court.
How else can I make sure my rights are respected?
A number of bodies - many of them the creations of Chapter 9 of the Constitution - can help you assert your fundamental rights. These offer a useful place to begin.
Are hearings open to the public?
The public may attend Court hearings. To find out when the Court will be sitting, check the list of forthcoming hearings on the home page. Hearings normally start at 10am.
How many judges are assigned to hear a case?
There are 11 justices of the Constitutional Court. All available judges sit for all hearings, but a matter before the Court must be heard by at least eight judges.
How does one address a judge?
Judges at the Constitutional Court are addressed as "justice" or "judge".
How is a case brought before the Constitutional Court?
A case can reach the Constitutional Court:
- as the result of an appeal from a judgment of another court (rule 19);
- as a direct application to the Court, asking it to sit as a court of first and last instance because of the existence of exceptional circumstances (rule 18 and section 167(6)(a) of the Constitution);
- as the result of a court declaring a piece of legislation invalid, which requires confirmation by the Constitutional Court; or
- as a Bill that Parliament asks the Court to review.
Do I need a lawyer to prepare and file documents in the Constitutional Court?
You do not have to have a lawyer to prepare and file documents in the Constitutional Court. The rules of the Court, which govern procedures before it, will help you to prepare. However, you are encouraged to obtain some form of legal assistance before coming to the Court.
Do I have to pay a fee?
A revenue stamp of R75.00 is needed on the original document.
What are the deadlines for filing documents
Deadlines, which are imposed by the Court rules, vary depending on the nature and stage of the proceedings involved. Please note that it is a litigant's responsibility to check the rules. All time limits are expressed in court days, but Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays are excluded when calculating court days. See the guide to deadlines for filing documents with the Constitutional Court.
The main categories of applications, and the rules that govern them, are:
- urgent applications (rule 12);
- applications for direct access to the Court (rule 18);
- applications for leave to appeal (rule 19);
- confirmation proceedings (rule 16); and
- amici curiae (rule 10.)
How do I find out if an Act has been challenged?
How do I find out the status of a case?
When can I expect to hear the Court's decision?
You will be informed by the registrar. You can also find the latest decisions on the home page, under the heading "latest judgments".
Do I have to be present at the Court when it renders a decision in my case?
No. The Court notifies all parties to a case of the date on which it will hand down the judgment. Once the judgment has been handed down it is final and binding. The absence of one or more of the parties has no effect on the decision.
Can I be alerted as soon as a new judgment is handed down?
Subscribers to our judgments alert service receive notification by email on the same day a judgment is handed down; they can then download the full text. You can subscribe here.
How do I obtain copies of judgments and news releases?
The Constitutional Court publishes its judgments, case papers and news releases on its website; access is free. subscribe here to receive an email when a new judgment is handed down.
Can I be notified of new Court hearings that have been scheduled?
Subscribers to our forthcoming hearings alert service receive an email listing the cases that have been scheduled for the forthcoming Court term. You can subscribe here.
Can I find a Constitutional Court decision in any of the official languages?
Since 1995 the Constitutional Court's judgments have been delivered in English, although a few judgments have been delivered in Afrikaans.
Are photographs of the Court or judges available for publication?
How can I make my opinion known on a pending case?
You may apply for written consent to be admitted as an amicus curiae (a friend of the court). All the parties before the court must give their written consent before you may be admitted. However, if there is no written consent you may apply to the chief justice to be admitted. See rule 10 of the rules of the Constitutional Court.
How do I apply to become a law clerk?
The judges of the Constitutional Court are the first in the history of the South African judiciary to all have law clerks. There are programmes for both South African and foreign law clerks. See the law clerks' page for more.
- Do you have a question that isn't covered here?