Papier holds a BProc from the University of the Western Cape, an LLM in Human Rights from Harvard Law School and an LLM in Commercial Law from the University of Cape Town.
He worked as prosecutor in the early 80s before venturing into the side-Bar and working as an attorney for almost thirty years. He told the Judicial Service Commission during his interview that 17 of those years was spent doing human rights work in the Mitchells Plain township. Papier has acted in the Western Cape High Court between 2000-2003 and again in 2017.
Currently the director of the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation, Papier also holds various other positions, including chairing the Cape Law Society Pro Bono Committee and is president of the University of Cape Town Appeals Board. He was the Cape Law Society’s president for two terms in 2002.
October 2017 Interview:
October 2017 – Interview synopsis
Some candidates — because of their lawyering, their political activism, charisma or a combination of all — have the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) eating out their hands in no time.
Attorney Taswell Papier, with his convivial but serious nature, certainly did appear a man nonchalantly flicking bread to attentive pigeons in Company’s Gardens during his interview.
Even the fact that Papier did not speak an indigenous language — a sticking point for many a candidate — did not appear to trouble the commission who were seduced by his frankness, a smile, and a smattering of basic Xhosa.
Papier was duly appointed. But his personality did not appear the only thing going for the candidate — many commissioners, when drilling down into issues, were left impressed by his responses.
Noting Papier’s extended experience in corporate law for an established firm, and the paucity of black practitioners in this area, Supreme Court of Appeal President Mandisa Maya asked him what could be done “to ensure a wider pool in the future?
The candidate talked of the initiatives at his own law firm, which included young black lawyers being sent to New York on one-two year programmes where they were located at top law forms and banks “to expose them to top-end commercial work.
“I believe exposure equals expertise,” Papier said.
Maya was suitably impressed by a concrete example of attempts at transformation.
Asked by ANC member of parliament, Jomo Nyambi, to describe his “best and worst” experiences as a lawyer, Papier said his worst including “not being able to achieve the objectives one ultimately wanted to achieve and seeing a client suffering at the hands of an unjust system [apartheid].”
The best, included getting antiapartheid activists charged with political offences acquitted and when the Cape Bar Council adopted an obligatory pro-bono rule for all its members.
Western Cape Judge President John Hlophe asked Papier about racism in the legal fraternity and whether skewed briefing patterns was a form of racism. Papier said racism, of the “stereotypical and stigmatic kind” were realities and there was “no question about it”, that briefing patterns favouring white males was a form of racism. “What do we do about it? That is the challenge to all of us,” Papier said.
Democratic Alliance representative Henrik Schmidt asked Papier about his relationship with the ANC. A former member of the ANC, Papier said his current relationship constituted his giving “strictly legal advice” to the party on election days regarding “legal compliance issues”, and not campaigning.
Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng’s interest was piqued by Papier’s extensive background in mediation and he asked the candidate whether these techniques could be used in courts.
Papier said there were instances, as in rape and murder cases, where plea-bargaining rather than mediation would be more applicable. He did, however, believe it was a useful tool which he had been using during his own acting stints on the Bench: “To ask a simple question: ‘Have you been speaking to each other? has produced results,” Papier said.
Mogoeng asked Papier whether, if appointed, he would be willing to assist in conducting mediation courses and the implementation of court-based mediation? Papier said it would be “an absolute pleasure to do that, it is something that I enjoy and it will make justice more accessible”.
Papier’s longest outstanding judgment had been delivered three-months and a week after the matter had been heard.