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Cape Town Principles on the Role of Independent Commissions in the Selection and Appointment of Judges

Dr Jan van Zyl Smit

What are the Cape Town Principles?

One of the most sensitive tasks in a constitutional democracy is the selection and appointment of judges. In South Africa, the bulk of this work has been entrusted to the Judicial Service Commission that was established in 1994. Similar bodies now exist in many jurisdictions across the developed and the developing world.

The Cape Town Principles are a set of principles that build on that international and comparative experience. They aim to provide practical guidance to constitution-makers, legislators and existing judicial service commissions or equivalent bodies, by identifying ways in which processes for the selection and appointment of judges can strengthen the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law, while preserving sufficient adaptability to suit national legal systems.

Where do they come from?

The Cape Town Principles are the outcome of a joint research project of the University of Cape Town Law Faculty and the Bingham Centre. The project brought together scholars from Canada, Kenya, Malaysia, Nigeria, South Africa and the UK to examine the processes by which judges are appointed in their countries. It was funded by the Claude Leon Foundation, a leading charitable foundation supporting research in South Africa. 

The Cape Town Principles were first published in February 2016. The full findings of the research project were later published as Hugh Corder and Jan van Zyl Smit (eds), Securing Judicial Independence: The Role of Commissions in Selecting Judges in the Commonwealth (Siber Ink, 2017). This book is also available to download for free under the Creative Commons licence.

Principles - all language versions

Originally published in English, the Cape Town Principles have been translated into:





The Bingham Centre would be pleased to hear from any person or organisation interested in translating the Principles into further languages. Please contact Jan van Zyl Smit to discuss this.

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