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Professor Kate O'Regan

On Thursday 4 May 2023, Professor Kate O'Regan (University of Oxford) delivered the 2023 Sir David Williams Lecture entitled "The Craft of Constitutional Adjudication", at the Faculty of Law, University of Cambridge.

In her lecture, Professor O'Regan outlined how courts in many parts of the world now play an expanded role in adjudicating how a society is governed. How courts play the expanded constitutional roles conferred upon them depends at least in part on what in this lecture, shall be referred to as the craft of constitutional adjudication. Craft may seem a quaint term, but it captures two key elements that are central to how judges adjudicate: first, it recognises that a functional legal system depends on shared professional understandings of legitimate modes of reasoning and secondly, it recognises that judges are not only individuals who adjudicate cases and provide reasons for their decisions, but also members of a broader professional community, which will assess judgments in the light of that community’s shared understandings. Successful constitutional adjudication in a constitutional system will require the development of a professional craft of adjudication, which may be contested and challenging. What will constitute legitimate modes of adjudicative reasoning will vary both across legal systems, and within them. The lecture ended with a brief account of how the South African Constitutional Court has addressed the challenge of establishing a new constitutional jurisprudence at a time of fundamental political and legal change and explore some of the enduring challenges that developing a transformed craft of constitutional adjudication presents.

Professor Kate O'Regan is the inaugural Director of the Bonavero Institute of Human Rights and a former judge of the South African Constitutional Court (1994 – 2009). In the mid-1980s she practiced as a lawyer in Johannesburg in a variety of fields, but especially labour law and land law, representing many of the emerging trade unions and their members, as well as communities threatened with eviction under apartheid land laws. In 1990, she joined the Faculty of Law at UCT where she taught a range of courses including race, gender and the law, labour law, civil procedure and evidence.

Since her fifteen-year term at the South African Constitutional Court ended in 2009, she has amongst other things served as an ad hoc judge of the Supreme Court of Namibia (from 2010 - 2016), Chairperson of the Khayelitsha Commission of Inquiry into allegations of police inefficiency and a breakdown in trust between the police and the community of Khayelitsha (2012 – 2014), and as a member of the boards or advisory bodies of many NGOs working in the fields of democracy, the rule of law, human rights and equality.


Lower bandwidth versions of these video and audio files

are also available at the University Streaming Media Service.


The lecture begins at 5m07s.

You can download the lecture using the link below:

download MP3 fileDownload MP3 (94mb)


A gallery of photographs from the event is available on the Faculty of Law's Flickr Photostream, and a slideshow is displayed below:


Sir David Williams Lecture 2023