“Transnasionale konteks” in die regspraak van die konstitusionele hof in Suid-Afrika: ’n variasie op die tema van grondwetsvertolking
Du Plessis, Lourens
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Hierdie bydrae is 'n uitgebreide gevallestudie van hoe (en hoe doeltreffend) die konstitusionele hof in Suid-Afrika (hierna "die hof") toegang wat via die Grondwet tot 'n transnasionale konteks verleen word, in wets- en grondwetsvertolking benut. Transnasionaal omvat hier die gebruik van en steun op die volkereg asook grondwetlike vergelykingsarbeid. Hierdie twee dimensies moet nie saamgesmelt of vermeng word nie. In die eerste van drie hoofonderafdelings van die artikel bespreek ek die grondwetsbepalings wat uitdruklik toegang tot transnasionale bronne in wets- en grondwetsvertolking magtig en regspraak van die hof oor die toepassing en gebruik van sodanige bepalings. In die tweede hoofonderafdeling kyk ek na steun op die volkereg in wets- en grondwetsvertolking met besondere aandag aan, onder meer, die wel en wee van 'n diktum waarin die hof gesê het dat die volkereg help om 'n raamwerk daar te stel waarbinne alle ander reg vertolk moet word (die "raamwerk-diktum"). Ek kyk ook na die skromelike onderbenutting van artikel 233 van die Grondwet en sluit dan af met 'n bespreking en illustrasie van hoe steun op die volkereg in wets- en grondwetsvertolking tot die vorming van nuwe munisipale reg (kan) bydra. In die laaste onderafdeling word verskeie kwessies rakende grondwetlike vergelykingsarbeid aangesny en word gesigspunte van sowel ondersteuners van as skeptici oor hierdie vorm van vergelyking toegelig en beoordeel. Argumente oor die voor- en nadele van hierdie relatief nuwe dissipline word kortliks bekyk en uiteindelik word ook hier 'n voorbeeld gegee van hoe grondwetlike vergelykingsarbeid tot die vorming van nuwe reg kan bydra. Uiteindelik word met die artikel aangetoon dat die konstitusionele hof se baie positiewe houding oor die gebruik van transnasionale bronne in wets- en grondwetsvertolking saam met grondwetlike demokrasie gekom het om te bly ten spyte van enkele gevalle ('n volstrekte minderheid, weliswaar) waar die hof - byvoorbeeld as gevolg van politieke druk - nie met volle oorgawe aan "die transnasionale" gevolg kon gee nie. ABSTRACT: "Transnational context" in the jurisprudence of the constitutional court of South Africa : a variation on the theme of constitutional interpretation This article is a case study of how (and how effectively) the constitutional court in South Africa has succeeded in accessing a transnational context to aid, and indeed inspire, the interpretation of the Constitution (and statutes), with accessing a transnational context here referring both to the use of and reliance on international law and to the practice of constitutional comparativism. These two dimensions can be looked at and reflected on simultaneously, but are not to be equated and eventually conflated. It will be shown that the court has indeed made this mistake, but fortunately with more positive than negative consequences, and this, paradoxically, has contributed to a better understanding of transnational access. The first main section of the article looks at constitutional provisions that authorise, in so many words, or at least recommend, access to transnational sources as well as the jurisprudence of the court on the use and application of such provisions. Particular attention is devoted to three sets of guidelines which the court developed, notably in the epoch-making case of S v Makwanyane (the "death penalty case"). The second main part of the article discusses the use of and reliance on international law in statutory and constitutional interpretation. Special attention is devoted to, among others, the weal and woe of a significant dictum of the court in Makwanyane stating that international law helps provide a framework within which all other law must be construed (the so-called framework dictum). I also draw attention to the underuse of section 233 of the Constitution which enjoins any court construing the Constitution or legislation to prefer any reasonable interpretation in conformity with international law to any other interpretation(s) not thus in conformity. Section 233 is, for all practical purposes, not really invoked. The second main part of the article also devotes attention to the phenomenon that external and internal political pressures sometimes influence the way in which a court deals with disputes it is called upon to adjudicate. Some cases in which the court was under political pressure are identified and discussed and I conclude that the court has acted mostly appropriately in politically precarious situations. In AZAPO political controversy put the Makwanyane framework dictum under considerable strain and almost abrogated it by disuse! But a series of cases followed in which the Makwanyane framework dictum was carefully restored and observed, and more than just damage control was done in acknowledging the dictum's significance. International law plays a distinctly formative role in constitutional and statutory interpretation and enriches municipal law. This phenomenon is also considered in the second main part of the article and it is shown that the court's eagerness to rely on and/or apply international law has in some instances even resulted in the formation of new law per errorem! The third main part is about issues pertinent to the theory and practice of constitutional comparativism. Attention is devoted to a discussion of the debate between judges and academics who believe in, and add considerable value to, the endeavour of constitutional comparison (the protagonists) and those who do not share - and actually oppose - this belief (the antagonists). A very important point that the protagonists make is that comparative work helps judges to interrogate their own prejudices and question their assumptions. An example is provided of how foreign (case) law - through the exercise of comparison - could enrich South African law on the interpretation of enacted law texts. One of the challenges constitutional comparativists (especially in South Africa) face is that of coming to grips with what it means to be a comparative example of some significance among quite a number of (other) new constitutional democracies with their democratic constitutions in an era of ever increasing globalisation. The novelty tag here is often hung around the neck of jurisdictions with post-World War II constitutions riding the "third wave of democratisation". A second challenge for constitutional comparativists (and scholars in particular) is to reflect thoroughly on, to develop and to refine methods of constitutional comparativism. There is widespread agreement that theory is still one of the weaker points of constitutional comparativism as a developing discipline. Comparativism is also significant in the development of the law as such and I explain how, for instance, there is much to learn from European examples about the interpretation of enacted law and especially the use of the so-called Savigny Quartet. The challenges mentioned above do not undo positive milestones that have been achieved. What has been published on comparative constitutionalism in South Africa is not much, but is of a high quality, especially the work of scholars like Van der Walt, Botha and Venter. Botha's work is significant in that he meticulously identifies and describes inherently different versions of the relationship between "the newer comparativism" and the globalisation of constitutionalism. Van der Walt writes extensively and incisively about constitutional property and does so from a comparative perspective. The honour of drafting an agenda for the comparativist debate is probably Venter's - he has authored the only two books on constitutional comparativism in South Africa thus far.
- Faculty of Law