Lawyers and Truth Recovery Mechanisms in South Africa

Our latest report for legal practitioners, human rights activists and academics is now available to download here.

Focusing on post-apartheid South Africa, it explores the role of lawyers in truth recovery mechanisms.

The report was prepared by Dr Rachel Killean and draws on a series of interviews conducted in South Africa (with legal academics, ‘struggle’ lawyers, state lawyers, judges and human rights activists) as part of the wider Lawyers, Conflict and Transition project.

Dr Killean begins with an overview of the various roles the legal profession has played in South Africa, both during the apartheid era and post-transition.

The first half of the report then explores the role of lawyers as professional participants – firstly at the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission and secondly in the Marikana Commission of Inquiry.

The report then considers the notion of lawyers as subjects of truth recovery, looking in particular at the Special Legal Hearing on the legal profession as part of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

In the concluding section Killean reflects on the extent to which lawyers influence the procedures and outcomes of truth recovery mechanisms and offers some concrete suggestions as to how the involvement of lawyers in such processes might be more effectively managed.

With regard to lawyers as subjects of truth recovery, she acknowledges the limitations of the South African model but posits that the endeavour must be applauded, not least because it demonstrated that it is possible to scrutinise the role of the legal profession in past conflict, and that it is worth wrestling with the associated challenges.