The role of the Constitutional Court in South Africa

Tuesday, June 11, 2024, 3:16
Author name
George Seruwagi
The front of a court house, as an representation of the Constitutional Court

South Africa has a dynamic legal and governance system, firmly rooted in its Constitution that serves as the country's supreme law.  At the centre of this system is the Constitutional Court, which is the guardian of the Constitution.  This powerful yet specialised court plays a critical role in safeguarding the nation's hard-won democracy and protecting the fundamental rights of its citizens.  But what exactly does this court do, and why is it so vital?


What is the Constitutional Court?

The Constitutional Court is the highest court of South Africa for constitutional matters.  It was established in 1994 after the country's first democratic elections and currently resides in the renowned building at Constitution Hill in Braamfontein, Johannesburg.  The court is the nation's highest court and its decisions hold ultimate authority, unchallenged by any other court, according to the 2012 Constitution 17th AMendment Act.

The Constitutional Court comprises 11 judges who are appointed by the President after being nominated by the Judicial Service Commission and approved by the National Assembly.  The judges serve a non-renewable term of 12 years.  While the Supreme Court of Appeal handles regular appeals, individuals, organisations, or companies can directly approach the Constitutional Court to appeal of constitutional decisions handed down by the High Court.


Roles of the Constitutional Court

The role of the Constitutional Court in South Africa is multifaceted, with several key responsibilities that help shape the country's legal and political landscapes:

Interpretation of the Constitution

The Constitutional Court plays a critical role in interpreting the provisions of the Constitution.  The Constitution is a complex legal document, and sometimes its meaning is open to interpretation.  As the highest court in the country for constitutional matters, the Constitutional Court decides how particular provisions of the Constitution should be understood, ensuring that the law is applied in a consistent and coherent manner across different cases.

Protection of the Constitution

The Constitutional Court is responsible for protecting the Constitution from infringement. As such, it has the power to declare laws, actions, or policies that contravene the Constitution as unconstitutional.  This means that the Constitutional Court can review actions taken by any branch of government and declare them unconstitutional if they infringe on the rights and principles enshrined in the Constitution.

Enforcement of the Constitution

The Constitutional Court also ensures that all institutions and individuals abide by the Constitution and that the proper implementation of the Constitution's principles is upheld.  It has the power to issue orders and directives to enforce its decisions and ensure that the Constitution is not violated.

Dispute resolution

The Constitutional Court serves as the ultimate arbiter in constitutional cases and has the power to interpret and apply the Constitution when deciding disputes.

Review of legislation

The Constitution requires that all laws passed by Parliament comply with its provisions.  The Constitutional Court has the power to review the constitutionality of any legislative acts, including parliamentary or provincial bills, and determine whether they are in line with the Constitution.

Review of constitutional amendments

The Constitution provides that amendments to the Constitution must be enacted in a particular manner and in compliance with specific requirements.  The Constitutional Court has the power to review any constitutional amendment and determine whether it was enacted in compliance with the Constitution.

Overseer of governmental compliance

Parliament and the President have specific constitutional obligations that they must fulfil, and the Constitutional Court can decide whether these obligations have been satisfied.  The court can determine whether Parliament has taken appropriate action, such as passing legislation, to fulfil its constitutional obligations, and can likewise gauge whether the President has fulfilled hir or her obligations, such as signing legislation into law.



The Constitutional Court is an essential part of South Africa's journey towards a more just and equitable society.  To equip yourself with more knowledge regarding the Constitutional Court, consider enrolling with the Gawie le Roux Institute of Law.  Their vast array of training and webinars will equip you with comprehensive knowledge about South Africa's legal system.


You may also be interested in:

The role of government gazettes in South Africa

Understanding the South African Magistrates' Court



Join Telegram group

Select one or more group/s by pressing ctrl and clicking on the desired group/s you wish to join.

Admission Application Template Pack

Fill out this form to download your FREE copy of our template pack for the application to be admitted as legal practitioner.

The template pack includes:

  • A checklist for the application for admission in terms of the Legal Practice Act
  • A list of requisite annexures
  • A template for the notice of motion
  • A template for the founding affidavit
  • A template for the supporting affidavit