Pathways to Justice 

This research explores the “pathways” that rural citizens use to access justice, subsequent to experiencing social contact or property-related crimes, and provides valuable insight into the relationship between the formal and the customary justice systems. Building on work from the Pathways to Justice in Rural KZN project, a number of scholarly outputs will be produced, based on the analysis of relevant literature and the empirical data. The KZN research explored the “pathways” that rural citizens in four KwaZulu-Natal jurisdictions use to access justice across four jurisdictions, Greytown, Msinga, Muden and Weenen. The analysis of police dockets at these precincts, alongside  findings from in-depth, semi-structured interviews with prosecutors and magistrates, as well as workshops and focus-group discussions with selected Traditional Council members in the four areas, shed light on the ways in which families, traditional leadership structures, the South African Police Service, and the state courts, factor into a complainant’s decisions in attempting to seek resolution.

Mapping Law and Society in Africa

There exists a vast range of scholarship on law and society in Africa, however, much of that scholarship can be charged with reproducing centuries old tropes of a “dark Africa” marked by underdevelopment, poverty, violence and disease. Largely underrepresented, and often inaccessible and lacking visibility, is African scholarship that engages or seeks to understand the everyday construction, location and use of law in African societies, in ways that do not exoticise or continue to build on irredeemable colonially conceived notions of Africa. This project, constituted as an International Research Collaborative (IRC) within the Law and Society Association in July 2020, and led by CLS, currently involves the collaboration of African scholars from 10 countries. The project aims to address the absence of Africa in law and society scholarship in, on and from the continent, and has a key objective of closely scrutinizing the historical drivers and influences of past and present research, including subject matter, methodologies, the identity of researchers and their locations, and the outputs that determine the trajectory of African law and society scholarship.
Through this work, the collaborative intends to study the pluralities of historiographies and imaginings of law and society scholarship in and on Africa. By mapping the pasts and futures of African law and society scholarship, the collaboration seeks to establish a programmatic approach through which to locate and grapple with contemporary debates, including on decolonisation, globalization and climate change, in a way that places the contribution and continuing relevance of law and society scholarship under scrutiny. Collaborators are working towards the production of three key outputs:

  • A Research Handbook(s) on Law and Society in Africa – the vision here is of a scholarly volume linking pasts, present and futures centred on African debates and drawn from African scholarship.
  • A Critical Reader(s) on Law and Society in/on/from Africa – this volume is intended as a “course reader” for students and centres on a critical linking together of African scholarship, in which the text of that scholarship dominates.
  • A Repository of African Law and Society Scholarship – the aim here is to establish an accessible, thematically-organised, online repository of African research and teaching materials. This will include historical books and journals that are out of print and/or copyright, grey materials and research reports, and links to contemporary scholarship.

The work of the IRC builds on work done in the University of Cape Town Public Law LLM/MPhil course on Law and Society in Africa, and a workshop hosted by CLS and the National Research Foundation Chair in Security and Justice in 2019 on Teaching African Law and Society.

Africa Law and Society Digitisation Project

The Digitisation Project is a collaborative project between CLS, the National Research Foundation Chair in Security and Justice, UCT Digital Library Services, OpenUCT, SOAS, AfricanLii, and Cardiff University’s Centre for Law and Global Justice.
This project (which links to a key output in the Mapping Law and Society in Africa project) aims to produce an accessible, thematically organised, open access, online repository of African research and teaching materials under the law and society and security and justice themes.
To date, significant progress has been made on the construction of the demo site, a process facilitated by Digital Library Services, and we anticipate that the online platform will officially be launched and go live during 2023. 

Comparative Perspectives on Autocratic Legalism

Across the globe, authoritarian regimes are using law to undermine democracy and weaken political and social rights. Yet, there continues to be investments in law to resist authoritarianism and protect liberal democracy. The aim of this project – also established as an International Research Collaborative within LSA – is to study this complex interplay between populist authoritarianism and law across multiple countries and contexts. In doing so, it will explore the role of law in the rise of, and reaction to, autocratic legalism in government agencies, courts, legislatures and the legal profession. Implementation for this three-year project commenced in 2020 and currently involves over 50 researchers conducting studies on a number of countries including Brazil, India, the United States, Hungary, and South Africa. Project participants are exploring formal legal changes; changes in informal practices that sustain or undermine law and enable or subvert legal interpretations; and bottom-up mobilization that supports democratic/anti-democratic legality. Their attention also centres on how historical (dis)continuities and institutional path dependency help explain when and how anti-democratic leaders or movements and those resisting them resort to legalistic tactics.

Judicial Accountability

A functional and accountable judiciary is fundamental to any system committed to the rule of law. Empirical approaches to the monitoring of judicial functioning have been underexplored in South African and African scholarship. Researchers at the Centre for Law and Society are working on pathbreaking initiatives aimed at enhancing the capacity for such research and exploring innovative research questions. In addition, CLS has spearheaded the development of an up-to-date and dynamic platform for tracking Constitutional Court statistics that will offer a unique and relevant service for the South African legal community and general public, including:

  • Serving as a research tool for local and international constitutional law scholars. 
  • Generating discussion and debate by researchers, legal practitioners and journalists on Constitutional Court trends.
  • Providing an easy-to-use and interactive platform to generate interest in and awareness of Constitutional Court cases and trends amongst the general public.
  • Offering insight into emerging issues in Constitutional Court jurisprudence.

Edwin Cameron Tribute Collection

This project assesses the judicial influences and impact of Justice Edwin Cameron and will result in an edited collection of essays that will serve as a tribute to and critical assessment of the legacy of Justice Cameron, one of the most consequential judges of South Africa’s constitutional era. The edited volume will be the first tribute collection assessing the contributions of Justice Cameron, and will be of interest to lawyers, law students, judges, legal academics (South African and international), historians, and social scientists with an interest in constitutionalism in post-apartheid South Africa. Confirmed contributors to the book project include retired judges, former law clerks, legal practitioners and leading local and international scholars.  

Gender-Based Violence and Narrative Storytelling

CLS researchers have, in recent years, been exploring innovative, creative and new ways in which to present and disseminate our research findings, to not only academic audiences within the law and society arena, but also to broader role-player communities, and parties within the social justice sector. Storytelling, including fictional narrative storytelling, based on and informed by factual empirical findings has been one such method that has received careful consideration and attention, with the focus centred on key themes emerging from our various project databases, specifically sexual and domestic violence against women and children, the pathways and access to justice for these victims, and their interactions and perceptions of criminal justice system role-players.