Chief Justice Pius Langa

Date of Birth

25 March 1939


24 July 2013


B Iuris (1972); LLB (1976) (UNISA)

History at the Court:

Appointed: October 1994

Appointed as Deputy President of the Constitutional Court: August 1997

Appointed as Deputy Chief Justice: November 2001

Appointed as Chief Justice: June 2005

Retired: October 2009

Brief biography

Justice Langa’s working life commenced in 1957 at a shirt factory. Between 1960 and 1977, he served in various capacities in the Department of Justice from interpreter and messenger, working his way up to magistrate. He was admitted as an Advocate of the Supreme Court of South Africa in June 1977 after which he practised at the Natal Bar and attained the rank of senior counsel in January 1994.

Justice Langa’s practice as an advocate reflected the struggle against the apartheid system and his clientele thus included the underprivileged, various civic bodies, trade unions and people charged with political offences and under the oppressive apartheid security legislation.

During the 1980s and early 1990s, he served in the structures of the United Democratic Front, was involved in the work of the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA) and of its successor, the Multi-Party Negotiating Forum. He was also a member of the Constitutional Committee of the African National Congress and was in the advisor group during the Groote Schuur and Pretoria “Talks-about-Talks”.

In 1998 he chaired a commission to probe the Lesotho elections on behalf of the Southern African Development and Economic Community. In 2000 he was appointed the Commonwealth’s special envoy to assist the Fiji Islands’ return to democracy. He has participated in the work of constitutional review commissions in Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe, Rwanda and Tanzania. He also led a delegation of the International Bar Association to Cameroon, at the request of the Cameroon government, to review and integrate that country’s system of criminal procedure.

He became Deputy President of the Constitutional Court in August 1997 and, in November 2001, assumed the position of Deputy Chief Justice of South Africa. He was appointed as the country’s Chief Justice with effect from June 2005 until his retirement in October 2009. As Chief Justice, Justice Langa was chairperson of the Judicial Service Commission and was also the chairperson of the Southern African Judges Commission, a forum of Chief Justices in Southern and East Africa. He is also a member of the Permanent Court of Arbitration.

He served on the executive committee of the Democratic Lawyers Association and was founding member of the National Association of Democratic Lawyers and he served as its president from 1988 to 1994. He has served on the boards and as trustee of various law-related institutions, and was also involved in the founding of the South African Legal Defence Fund. Justice Langa served as commissioner of the pre-constitutional Human Rights Commission (later known as the Human Rights Committee).

As a township resident in his early working life, he was always involved in community work and in attempts to improve the quality of life among the communities around him. He helped organise civic organisations and residents’ associations and gave guidance to youth and recreational clubs.

Justice Langa served as a founder member of the Release Mandela Committee (Natal) and was a member of the Regional and National Reception Committees formed to prepare for and accelerate the release of political prisoners. He was appointed to the Police Board to assist with the transformation of the police services under the aegis of the National Peace Accord, which was set up to stem the violence that plagued parts of South Africa in the 1980s and early 1990s. He also chaired the Technical Committee to review and rationalise health legislation, served as a member of the Commission of Inquiry into Unrest in Prisons and was a member of the Commission of Inquiry into Certain Alleged Covert South African Defence Force Activities.

He has, over the years, organised and/or participated in numerous conferences, workshops and seminars on human rights, justice and other constitutional issues and also delivered speeches on various related topics in South Africa and in many countries abroad. He is a member of the Judicial Integrity Group which was responsible for the compilation of the Bangalore Principles for Judicial Ethics.

Justice Langa was appointed an honorary professor in the Department of Procedural and Clinical Law at the University of Natal in June 1998 and has served for several years as Distinguished Visiting Professor at the Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. He was chancellor of the University of Natal from 1998 to 2004 and is currently chancellor of the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University.

He has been honoured with awards for the advancement of justice and human rights by the Black Lawyers Association, the National Association of Democratic Lawyers and the Judicial Council of the American National Bar Association. He was awarded the 2004 Justice Prize, jointly with the then Chief Justice of South Africa, Justice Chaskalson, by the Peter Gruber Foundation in the USA, and received the 2006 Sydney and Felicia Kentridge Award for Service to Justice in 2006. On 11 March 2008 he was honoured with the eThekwini Living Legends award together with other local heroes who have excelled in their respective fields. On 22 April 2008, the President of the Republicof South Africa bestowed upon him the Order of the Supreme Counsellor of the Baobab in Gold.

Justice Langa has been awarded honorary doctorates in law by the Universities of Zululand, Western Cape, Cape Town, South Africa, Rhodes, Yale and the National University of Ireland, and the degree Doctor of the Public Service (honoris causa) by the North EasternUniversity, Boston.

Selection of Judgments written