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African Human Rights Law Journal

On-line version ISSN 1996-2096
Print version ISSN 1609-073X


VAN DER WESTHUIZEN, Johann. A few reflections on the role of courts, government, the legal profession, universities, the media and civil society in a constitutional democracy. Afr. hum. rights law j. [online]. 2008, vol.8, n.2, pp.251-272. ISSN 1996-2096.

This contribution is a reworked version of a lecture presented at the Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria, commemorating the University's centenary celebrations. Contrasting the pre- and post-constitutional legal landscapes, Justice Van der Westhuizen emphasises that political meddling in judicial affairs, previously left in a legal void, is now very clearly circumscribed by the constitutionally-entrenched principles of separation of powers and independence of the judiciary. Justice Van der Westhuizen proceeds to analyse aspects of the relationship between the courts, on the one hand, and the govenment, the legal profession, universities, the media and civil society, on the other hand. The relationship between courts and the government is fraught with tension, but so far the executive has readily complied with almost all court decisions, and the court has steered a cautious course when it comes to interference in the legislature. The importance of the legal profession, both inside and outside courtrooms, is underlined, and the crucial role of universities in fostering free speech is emphasised in the contribution. Turning to the media, Justice Van der Westhuizen acknowledges the importance of an informed public, and responsible reporting. He takes the media to task for some irresponsible and factually incorrect reporting. In conclusion, the author emphasises the important role of civil society and of continuous debate, analysis and criticism in the attainment of 'our constitutional project'.

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