It was over 160 years ago, with the Act 12 of 1858, that law teaching was launched in South Africa - although the first lecture was not delivered until 16 April 1859. The early years were documented most eloquently by Professor Denis Cowen in his history of the UCT Law Faculty, A History, 1858 - 2004 that Cowen co-authored with Danie Visser. Lectures were delivered in the Master's Meeting Room in the old Supreme Court at the top of Adderley Street until 1896, after which the College Council made determined - and it would seem largely successful - efforts to ensure that lectures be delivered in the College Buildings on Government Avenue. The year 1916 heralded the beginning of a new chapter in the story of South African legal education, when provision was made for the creation of the Universities of Stellenbosch and Cape Town. The Cape Town Act specifically provided that the old South African College should become a University, thereby maintaining continuity with our early history.
What was of significance was the decision taken by the University authorities to appoint full-time professors of Law. In 1923 a Chair of Roman Law and Jurisprudence was established out of funds raised in memory of Mr W P Schreiner; and in 1925 a second Chair of Law was established. The first occupants of these two Chairs were respectively the late Professor J Kerr Wylie (1924-1948) and the late Professor Eric Emmett (1925-1945). Meanwhile, student numbers continued to grow until in 1939 there were 74 students registered in the Faculty.
Our annual student numbers indicate over 1,000 registered Law students at undergraduate and postgraduate levels - drawn mostly from South Africa, but also from numerous other countries on the continent and elsewhere. 43% of students are postgraduate, indicating the strength of the UCT research endeavour in Law, and the Faculty's growing contribution to knowledge development.