A brief report from Beatriz Brown who completed a five week internship with the University of Western Cape in Cape Town with the help of funding from the Overseas Placement Fund.
South Africa’s Constitution is considered by many around the globe as the pinnacle of progressive constitutionalism for its focus on human dignity and security. Given my interest in public law, I looked forward to exploring public law practice along with my Inner Temple colleague Fatima Jichi. We spent our first days at the Western Cape Law Clinic shadowing students to understand the pro bono legal aid model employed. Realising our interest lay in constitutional litigation, Fatima and I began a podcast to introduce UK law students to topical South African legal debates. We asked questions of academics and practitioners on topics populating the newspapers, from land restitution to legal pluralism.
The breadth of scholarship and litigation experience we encountered was dazzling. We interviewed constitutional abolitionists, who saw post-apartheid legal compromise as a mistaken abandonment of African jurisprudence, to strategic litigators at Legal Resource Centre who advised us on selecting test cases to advance structural legal change. We were invited by the Law Reform Commission to consult on legal aid funding models, and attended dinners with academic barristers engaged in legal activism. We took part in lectures with South African magistrates keen to hear our proposals for bail reform, and attended a Community Court in a notoriously violent area dispensing ‘one day restorative justice’ in its attached community gardens. I attended a course at the University of Cape Town on Chinese Trade Law in Africa, benefitting from classmates from across the continent who provoked discussion on legal ethics and pragmatism.
Daily I stretched my legal imagination. I enriched my understanding of applied human rights law. Having worked for a decade in restorative justice, I was forced to interrogate what I knew of South African transitional justice. I developed advocacy skills through public speaking, commercial awareness and renewed commitment to my areas of intended practice: state and corporate accountability. Beyond law, I delighted in wine tours, contemporary art at the Constitutional Court, botanical gardens, and spirited political debate with new colleagues.
It was a privilege to learn from our South African Bar counterparts, who were generous with their time and open to our questions. I am grateful to Lincoln’s Inn for sponsoring my professional development. My belief in what advocacy can achieve was teased, remodeled and ultimately expanded.