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Advocate Matthew Chaskalson SC

Capacity: Advocate
Admission as advocate: 1994
Further admissions: 2009 (Senior Counsel)
Gender: Man
Ethnicity: White
Date of Birth: August 1963
Qualifications: BA cum laude (1994), BA(Hons) cum laude (1985), LLB cum laude (1990)(Wits University)

Key publications:

  • Constitutional Law of South Africa (Juta, 1996; revision service 1997 – 2008)
  • South African Mineral and Petroleum Law(Juta, 2006; revision service 2006 – 2008)
  • Book Chapter: Democracy and Constitutionalism: the Role of Constitutional Interpretation in van Wyk (ed) Rights and Constitutionalism: The New South African Legal Order (Juta, 1994)
  • The Problem With Property: Thoughts on the Constitutional Protection of Property in the United States and Commonwealth 1993 SAJHR (388 – 411)


Candidate Biography (updated April 2024):

Advocate Matthew Chaskalson SC is a practicing advocate and member of the Johannesburg Bar.

Chaskalson has had a remarkable career as both an academic and advocate with a broad range of legal experience.

After completing all his qualifications (with distinction) at Wits University, Chaskalson spent a short stint (1990-1991) as a candidate attorney at Johannesburg mining law firm Bell Dewar Hall (now Fasken). He returned to Wits Law School to take up a lecturer position at from 1992 to 1994.

In 1995 he headed up the Constitutional Law Project at the Centre for Applied Legal Studies, still at Wits. It was during this time that Chaskalson made extensive contributions to early ideas on the new Constitution of South Africa.

His article, The Problem With Property, provided framing ideas on the interpretation of the ‘property clause’ in the Constitution. It was referred with approval by the Constitutional Court in FNB v Minister of Finance, the leading authority (so-called locus classicus) on the meaning of property in terms of the Constitution. In the same judgment, three of Chaskalson’s articles are listed as “significant contributions” in the field of constitutional property.

Several of his other academic writings on the constitutional law have influence other spheres of the law, including mining law, land law, language rights in the Constitution.

He was general editor of Constitutional Law of South Africa, a treatise on South African constitutional law, and has been referred to in numerous judgments. Similarly, he contributed to South African Mineral and Petroleum Law, the leading publication in the field, and which is often cited by the courts.

He was admitted as an advocate in 1994 as an academic member. He later took up full time practice as junior counsel from 2000 to 2009, and was awarded senior counsel (or ‘silk’) status in 2010.

As a legal practitioner, his influence has gone beyond constitutional law. Early in his practice, her focused on cases to remove discriminatory provisions in the field of family. The Amod v MVA Fund case alloed Muslim widows to claim loss of support from the Road Accident Fund. The Daniels v Campbell case established the rights of Muslim widows to inherit under the Intestate Succession Act. The leading case of Bhe v Magistrate Khayelitsha did away with the discriminatory practice of male primogeniture in customary.

Later in his legal practice, Chaskalson worked extensively on confronting the pervasive problem of corruption and state capture in South Africa. He was one of the evidence leaders in the State Capture Commission, which was set up to investigate acts of grand corruption during the Zuma era. His focus was on the illegal money flows, and his workstream recovered R875 million from global consulting firm McKinsey & Co.

Chaskalson later represented the Transnet Defined Benefit Fund to claw back the moneys lost to Transnet pension through state capture-related corruption by Regiments Capital. Through this litigation, his team managed to recover R639 million on behalf of Transnet pensioners.

After the end of the State Capture Commission, Chaskalson worked with the National Prosecuting Authority’s Asset Forfeiture Unit to recover, on behalf of the state, some of the assets lost to state capture-related corruption.

The son of former Chief Justice Arthur Chaskalson, advocate Chaskalson has volunteered as an advocacy trainer from 2007 to date. In 2011 he was founding member of the Victoria Mxenge Group of Advocates, which was a nascent project to effect racial, gender and diversity transformation in the advocates’ profession. He was later a founding member and advocacy trainer at the Pan African Bar Association of SA (PABASA).

After the Judicial Service Commission failed for the third consecutive time to attract the minimum of four candidates to fill a single judge vacancy on the Constitutional Court, Chief Justice Raymond Zondo announced, on the sidelines of a JSC sitting, a “new approach” to attracting candidates.

Initially coy on what this ‘new approach’ was, Zondo later explained that it would entail recruiting senior legal practitioners and senior law professors to serve as acting justices on the Court, with the understanding that they would later put themselves forward for permanent appointment (section 174(5) of the Constitution only requires 4 members of the Court to have been judges prior to their appointment).

Chaskalson was the first of those legal practitioners recruited as part of Zondo’s new approach. He served as an acting justice on the Court from the last term of 2023 to the end of the first term of 2024. At the time of the April 2024 JSC, he has not yet issued a judgment.

While Chaskalson is highly regarded as a leading light in the field, and an expert legal practitioner with wide influence over broad areas of the law, he has limited judicial experience. While this is not a legal impediment to his candidacy, it forces the JSC to think broadly about the experience and qualities needed for the Constitutional Court at this time. Recent academic criticism of the Court (see L. .Loxton The Dangerous Powers of South Africas Super Appellate Court   CCR  (2023)Vol.13, 291–325) suggests that the Court has struggled with marrying its constitutional law and commercial law minds. Chaskalson’s broad experience seems to fill that gap. Will the JSC recognise this?