The first icon of the Constitutional Court, a plaque depicting its logo, was unveiled by President Nelson Mandela on 14 February 1995 - the day of the Court's inauguration.

It depicts people sheltering under a canopy of branches - a representation of the Constitution's protective role and a reference to a theme that runs though the Court, that of justice under a tree. The idea comes from traditional African societies: this was where people would meet to resolve disputes.

As Justice Albie Sachs - who was deeply involved in the development of the logo and the design of the new building - told a group on a tour of Constitution Hill: "The tree protects the people, and they look after the tree. Besides, in South Africa, justice has traditionally taken place under a tree."

According to Sachs, it was quite a process to decide on the logo. It had to reveal the Court's ethos and culture as a source of protection for all. It needed to convey the Court's place in Africa and the Constitution's historical roots in the struggle for human rights. And it needed to be infused with the spirit of a new democracy. What the Court did not want were clichéd images of the scales of justice and Roman columns.

After some discussion with fellow judges, Justice Kate O'Regan suggested Carolyn Parton, a designer in Cape Town. Sachs went to see her and was won over instantly.

The symbol chosen in the end was the tree - something that protects, just like the Constitution. But this tree does not stand alone in the logo: it is sheltering people who have gathered under its branches.

Initially, it seemed, there were two options: people or a tree. Now it became one concept: a crowd of people standing beneath the tree, encapsulated in a circle. The department of public works then turned Parton's logo into the large brass relief plaque that is now a compelling feature of the building.

The theme of "justice under a tree" does not end in the logo: it also inspired the design of the Constitutional Court's new building.

The logo in GIF format (60kb)
The logo in TIFF format (2mb)