Justice Johann van der Westhuizen

Date of Birth

26 May 1952


BBA Law (1973), LLB (1975), LLD (1980) (University of Pretoria)

History at the Court:

Appointed: 1 February 2004

Retired: 29 January 2016

Brief biography

From 1980 until 1998 Justice van der Westhuizen was a professor of the Department of Legal History, Comparative Law and Legal Philosophy in the University of Pretoria’s Faculty of Law.  From 1980 until 1994 he was the head of this department.

He was also the founding director of the University of Pretoria’s Centre for Human Rights (“CHR”) from 1986 to 1998. The CHR played a prominent role in legal resistance to apartheid and in the debate about a new constitutional dispensation, and is now internationally recognised as a leading human rights institution in Africa.

He has had a diverse career as an academic and has:

  • taught jurisprudence, human rights, constitutional law, legal history, comparative law and Roman law at the University of Pretoria as well as other South African universities;
  • co-taught an advanced course on the regional enforcement of the international human rights system at the Yale Law School;
  • presented numerous papers and lectures at conferences, universities and discussion groups in Germany, the USA, Canada, west and southern Africa and South Africa;
  • authored and edited several publications on legal history, criminal law, legal philosophy, constitutional law and human rights;
  • organised several conferences on human rights and related matters, participated in discussions with the then banned liberation movements in Dakar, Harare, Lusaka and New York and contributed to the human rights reports of the South African Law Commission; and
  • participated in numerous radio and television programmes in the USA, Germany, Canada, Japan and South Africa.

He was admitted as an advocate in 1976 and was an associate member of the Pretoria Bar from 1989 to 1998.

Justice van der Westhuizen acted as counsel in human rights litigation and argued many appeals against the censorship of socially and politically significant films and books such as RootsCry Freedom and A Dry White Season. He acted as a consultant and in-house advocate for the Legal Resources Centre and Lawyers for Human Rights and also served on the national council and board of trustees of Lawyers for Human Rights.

At the multiparty negotiating process in 1993, resulting in the adoption of the Interim Constitution, and at the Transitional Executive Council in 1994, he served as the convenor of task groups dealing with the abolition of discriminatory and oppressive legislation from the Apartheid era.

Justice van der Westhuizen was intimately involved in the drafting of South Africa’s Constitution in 1995 and 1996 as a member of the Independent Panel of Recognised Constitutional Experts, which advised the Constitutional Assembly, and of the Technical Refinement Team responsible for the final drafting and editing process.

He also co-ordinated the equality legislation drafting project of the Ministry of Justice and the South African Human Rights Commission in 1998.

In 1999 Justice van der Westhuizen was appointed by then President Mandela as a judge of the Transvaal Provincial Division of the High Court of South Africa (now the North Gauteng High Court) in Pretoria.

Justice van der Westhuizen is a council member of the South African Judicial Education Institute, an extraordinary professor at the University of Pretoria and a member of the board of trustees of the CHR.

Selection of Judgments written