International Judicial Monitor
Published by the American Society of International Law and the International Judicial Academy
April 2008 Issue

Justice In Profile

Pius Nkonzo Langa

Thomas BuergenthalPius Nkonzo Langa serves as Chief Justice of the South African Constitutional Court, an institution that has made a profound impact on the rule of law of South Africa and on the country’s transition from apartheid to a constitutional democracy.   

Education and Professional Service

Chief Justice Langa matriculated through private study and obtained his Bachelor of Jurisprudence and Bachelor of Laws degrees from the University of South Africa.  Prior to studying law, from 1957 to 1960, he worked in a shirt factory and then found employment as an interpreter in the Department of Justice. This was followed by a position as a prosecutor and later as a magistrate.

In 1977, Chief Justice Langa left the public service and was admitted as an advocate of the Supreme Court of South Africa. His chambers were in Durban but his practice, in which political trials predominated, took him to many parts of South Africa. His practice reflected the struggle against apartheid, and his clientele included the underprivileged, civic bodies, trade unions and people charged under apartheid security legislation. He became Senior Counsel in January 1994.

While he was at the Bar, Chief Justice Langa became involved with lawyers’ organizations. He served in the executive committees of the Democratic Lawyers Association and later the National Association of Democratic Lawyers (NADEL), of which he was a founding member. He was the national president of NADEL from 1988 until 1994.  

In October 1994, Chief Justice Langa was appointed as Judge of the Constitutional Court of South Africa by Nelson Mandela and became Deputy President of the Court in August 1997. He was appointed Deputy Chief Justice of South Africa in November 2001 and assumed the position of Chief Justice on 1 June 2005.

Law and Human Rights

Chief Justice Langa has served as a board member and trustee in various legal and human rights institution’s, including the Community Legal Services Unit, the Centre for Development Studies, the Centre for Applied Legal Studies, the Legal Resources Trust, the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies, the Human Rights Committee and the South African Legal Defense Fund.

International Engagement

Chief Justice Langa has participated in numerous conferences abroad and delivered papers and lectures on a variety of law and human rights-related topics. He has participated in the work of constitutional review commissions in Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe, Rwanda and Tanzania.

In 1998, the Chief Justice headed a commission that investigated the Lesotho elections on behalf of the South African Development and Economic Community. In 2000, he served as the Commonwealth’s special envoy to assist the Fiji Islands’ return to democracy. In 2003, he led a panel on behalf of the International Bar Association to review the draft Criminal Code of Cameroon.

Chief Justice Langa also serves as a member of the Judicial Integrity Group which was responsible for the drafting and publication of the International (Bangalore) Principles of Judicial Ethics.

Work in Southern Africa

Chief Justice Langa assisted in the formation of the Southern African Judges Commission, a forum for Chief Justices of the Southern Africa Development Community and other jurisdictions in other southern African jurisdictions, which he is currently the chairman of. The Commission’s focus is, among other things, the promotion and protection of independence of the judiciary and the promotion and development of a culture of human rights in the southern African region.

In 2000, Chief Justice Langa was appointed the Commonwealth's special envoy to assist the Fiji Islands' return to democracy. He has also participated in constitutional review commissions in Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe, Rwanda and Tanzania, and has taken part in conferences and workshops in a number of countries.  

Honors and Awards

The Chief Justice has received a number of awards and accolades for his promotion of human rights from the National Association of Democratic Lawyers and the Black Lawyers Association and an International Service Award from the Judicial Council of the National Bar Association. He was awarded the 2004 Justice Prize by the Peter Gruber Foundation along with former Chief Justice Arthur Chaskalson. In 2006, he was awarded the Sydney and Felicia Kentridge Award for his service to law in Southern Africa.

(This profile is an adaptation of Chief Justice Langa’s bio, which is located on the website of the Constitutional Court of South Africa. Permission to reproduce has been requested.)


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