Worthy chronicle of a lifetime spent fighting a society's injustice

Award-winning author charts the remarkable career of Arthur Chaskalson

06 November 2019 - 12:55
'Arthur Chaskalson: A Life Dedicated to Justice For All'.
'Arthur Chaskalson: A Life Dedicated to Justice For All'.
Image: Pan Macmillan

Arthur Chaskalson: A Life Dedicated to Justice for All is a biography of a remarkable life lived in service both to law and to the struggle for social change and justice. The social change it describes is the victory over apartheid, which was won on several fronts and through the efforts of people in many nations, but an important one of those fronts lay in the courts of SA itself.

Chaskalson’s life story and the four phases of his remarkable career – advocate at the Johannesburg Bar; founder and leader of the Legal Resources Centre; his involvement in the constitution-making process; and his term as the first Chief Justice of South Africa’s Constitutional Court – embody the story of law in the struggle against apartheid and then in a newly created democracy. At the same time, Chaskalson’s chronicle is also individual, the shaping of the moral intelligence of a lawyer and a judge, trusted by everyone he dealt with, through the fires of a lifetime's opposition to a society’s injustice.

In exploring Chaskalson’s life and career, we appreciate more clearly the roles lawyers can play in social change and the achievement of a just social order, and at the same time we gain insight into the combination of upbringing, experience and character that shapes a man first into a “cause lawyer” and then into a path-breaking and foundation-laying judge.

STEPHEN J. ELLMANN, an award-winning author and legal educator, was an expert on SA law, legal ethics, clinical legal education and constitutional law. He held the Lester Martin Chair as Professor of Law at New York Law School (NYLS). During his lifetime, he was a staff attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center and held academic appointments with the Jones Law Institute, Harvard Law School, Columbia University School of Law, Hebrew University Faculty of Law and New York Law School where he taught for more than 25 years. In 2018 at NYLS’s Commencement, the school’s highest honour was conferred on Professor Ellmann – the President’s Medal. Since his passing in March 2019, Professor Ellmann’s contributions to SA legal scholarship and clinical legal education have been recognised by numerous awards and fellowships named in his honour.