Obituary: Arthur Chaskalson

2012-12-03 00:00

FORMER chief justice Arthur Chaskalson died in Johannesburg at the age 81 on December 1. He was diagnosed with leukaemia last week and immediately admitted to hospital.

Chaskalson had an illustrious career and was appointed by former president Nelson Mandela as head of the Constitutional Court in 1994.

In 1963, Chaskalson had, along with Bram Fischer, Joel Joffe, Harry Schwarz and George Bizos, been part of Mandela’s defence team in the Rivonia trial, which saw Mandela sentenced to life imprisonment.

He later left a very successful legal practice to become a human rights lawyer, helping to establish the Legal Resources Centre, a non-profit organisation seeking to use the law to pursue justice and human rights around South Africa.

Chaskalson served as the centre’s director from 1978 until 1993, and was leading counsel in a number of cases that challenged the implementation of apartheid laws.

As the first president of South Africa’s new Constitutional Court in 1994, and then later Chief Justice of the same court (following a Constitutional amendment in 2001 that changed his title), Chaskalson gained a reputation as one of South Africa’s leading jurists in constitutional and human rights issues.

He was also a member of the technical committee on constitutional issues appointed by the multi-party negotiating forum in May 1993, acting as a key adviser on the adoption of the interim constitution of South Africa in 1993, and was regarded as one of the prime movers of a changing judiciary in South Africa during his time on the bench of the Constitutional Court.

Chaskalson became commissioner of the International Commission of Jurists in 1995 before being selected as one of South Africa’s four members on the United Nations Permanent Court of Arbitration in 1999. In 2001 he was appointed by the UN as a judge for the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.

Chaskalson, who graduated from the University of the Witwatersrand, was also a member of the board of the faculty of law at Wits from 1979 to 1999; and served as an honorary professor of law at the university from 1981 to 1995.

He leaves his wife, Dr Lorraine Chaskalson, and two children, Matthew and Jerome.

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