Albie Sachs was born in South Africa and his parents fostered in him the strong conviction that all people should be treated as equals. Sachs graduated from secondary school at the age of 15 and went to study Law at the University of Cape Town, South Africa. He was always an independent thinker. In his second year at University he began to take an active part in the Defiance of Unjust Laws Campaign. Later in his career he undertook his PhD at the University of Sussex on the South African legal system under apartheid. He also wrote a ground-breaking book on discrimination against women.
At the age of 21 he began practice as an advocate defending those charged under the racist repressive laws of South Africa’s apartheid regime. He defended many cases where the accused was facing the death penalty as punishment.
He was perceived as an enemy of the state for his work against the ruling apartheid regime. In order to secure his life he was forced into exile. His departure was agreed by the government on condition he never returned. He relocated to England where he taught law and then he moved to Mozambique. After Nelson Mandela’s release he devoted himself to the preparation of the new democratic constitution of South Africa, serving as a member of the Constitutional Committee and the National Executive of the ANC.
In 1994, he was appointed as a Judge of the Constitutional Court of South Africa. He is an expert on many areas of law. His judgements have been cited around the world in areas including crime and discrimination. He established the link between the right to equality and the right to dignity. He ruled that the death penalty was a violation of the right to life. He supported the use of the constitution to construe the definition of marriage to include partners of the same sex. He compelled the government to provide assistance to pregnant mothers who were HIV-positive by giving them drugs to reduce the risks of transmission to their unborn children.
In 1988 a bomb was planted by the South African Security Services under his car, which led to serious life changing injuries. It was a focal point for Sachs who, in spite of his physical disabilities, continued to seize his life’s opportunities. His experience of working with unjust laws inspired him to become one of the first Justices of the Constitutional Court of South Africa following the ending of apartheid.
He has written many powerful books about his own life journey and the law. His book 'Soft Vengeance of a Freedom Fighter' shows not only his dramatic life journey but also his remarkable lack of bitterness. He has fourteen honorary degrees and amongst many awards the most fitting was his Reconciliation Award. He travels the world speaking about his experience of South Africa and healing divided societies.
Nominated by Ayonrinde Victor Ongungbe, President of the LSBU Law Society, and chosen for the Inspired by Law gallery of lawyers and legal campaigners in 2016.
Photo kindly provided by Standford Daily.
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