Judges in Africa are faced with many challenges. Although most African countries have the formal institutional trappings of democracy, including courts with power of judicial review, de facto judicial independence, however, is frequently undermined. Many African states are characterised by executive dominance and respect for the rule of law is often weak.

To have a strong, independent and accountable system of justice you need good judges who are capable of delivering transformative judgments. Given the current constraints that many judges in Africa face once appointed, in terms of access to legal precedents and especially comparative and international law, as well as the infrastructural limitations of poor ICT connectivity and limited research support, it is hard for judges – old and new – to ‘push the envelope’ in terms of their judicial writing and, therefore, jurisprudential development.
The DGRU has embarked on a project that seeks to support judges in the SADC region in different ways. The project aims to build a cadre of relatively young, progressive-minded judges who will be supported through a number of means:

Three month internships

Selected postgraduate students from the University of Cape Town and Oxford are sent for 2-3 months as interns to clerk at a SADC apex court, thus gaining invaluable experience and providing judges with much needed support.

Virtual Research Assistants

The DGRU has a team of post-graduate UCT students available to conduct research ‘virtually’ for judges in the region. Students are based at UCT and supervised by the DGRU researchers.

Comparative Research Report

This is offered through the DGRU and Oxford University’s “Pro Bono Publico” group. This joint group takes on comparative research projects from Africa that concern an international human rights or public law issue.

Pocket Law

This is a legal information research product, available offline, and run on portable media containing relevant legal materials from southern Africa jurisdictions which are currently serviced by SAFLII and AfricanLII. It is enabled for automated updating of the collection
once the device is connected to a computer with an Internet connection.

Regular Judicial Forums in SA and SADC

Judges need quiet spaces to engage intellectually with key issues of relevance to the governance of the judicial arm of government. The more opportunities judges have to build knowledge and shared values, the stronger the judiciary will be. DGRU acts mainly as a facilitator of these forums and we work with judges in the development of the programme and call on them to lead the facilitation with input from academics/experts to provide a framework for discussion.

Annual Academic Residential Programme

A judge from the region is invited to the University of Cape Town’s Law faculty to engage in research of his/her choice while being financially and institutionally supported for a period of 6-8 weeks.

Public Support

Either in cooperation with others or as an organisation we provide public support where needed, through media statements, op-eds, etc. in particular situations where individual judges or particular judiciaries are threatened or challenged