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Judge Stuart David James Wilson

Capacity: Judge
First appointed as judge: January 2023 (Gauteng, Johannesburg)
Gender: Male
Ethnicity: White
Date of Birth: March 1980
Qualifications: MA (Oxford, UK) LLB, PhD (Wits)

Key Judgements:

Candidate Biography:

Judge Stuart Wilson is a judge of the Gauteng High Court (Johannesburg and Pretoria).

On the first day of the gruesome State v Shoba trial (more commonly known as the Tshegofatso Pule murder case), a phalanx of journalists, cameras and microphones crowded the small courtroom at the South Gauteng High Court.

When Judge Stuart Wilson uttered his first words, the room erupted in giggles and sniggers, to the point where he had to call the court to order. But who could blame the journos? It’s not common that you hear a distinctly British accent from a judge in a court in central Johannesburg.

Born and raised in Burnley in the north of England, UK, Wilson first came to South Africa in 1999 as a volunteer for an international NGO at schools around Nongoma, KwaZulu-Natal. He would later join Wits University’s Centre for Applied Legal Studies as an intern, researcher, senior researcher and paralegal, working on the right to education and housing from 2002 to 2009. He emigrated to SA in 2002.

In 2010 Wilson co-founded (with Professor Jackie Dugard) the Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa (SERI), which would quickly establish a reputation as one of the leading public interest legal organisations in South Africa.

Although SERI primarily focused on housing, evictions and land, it also represented farmworkers, street traders, and, most famously, 37 mineworker families whose relatives were killed in the Marikana Massacre.

Admitted as an advocate of the High Court and member of the Johannesburg Bar in 2010, Wilson ran several of SERI’s most important cases himself.

With 23 appearances in the Constitutional Court (13 as lead counsel), 10 appearances in the Supreme Court of Appeal (5 as lead counsel) and 49 reported cases, Wilson is recognised as expert counsel in administrative and constitutional law, particularly socio-economic rights.

Well-regarded as an academic, Wilson has published a dozen peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters. In 2021 he published his first book, Human Rights and the Transformation of Property, which was largely based on his doctoral thesis.

Wilson took up his first acting stint as a judge in the Gauteng High Court (Johannesburg and Pretoria) in 2020, serving continuously for several months before his permanent appointment in January 2023.

While acting as a judge, Wilson presided over the #TshegofatsoPule case, the gruesome murder of a young pregnant woman by an assassin hired by her boyfriend (Ntuthuko Shoba) who was engaged to be married to another woman. The murder sent shockwaves throughout the country and served as a catalyst for a national response to gender-based violence and femicide.

Following a well-publicised trial, with wall-to-wall television news coverage, Wilson found Mr Shoba guilty of murder and sentenced him to life imprisonment.

The 42 year-old Wilson holds the prestigious Oxford PPE (politics, philosophy and economics), which the Guardian newspaper describes as “the degree that runs Britain”.

He also holds an LLB (with distinction) and a PhD from Wits University, where he has taught for several years and holds the academic title of Visiting Associate Professor.

A leading human rights lawyer with a strong academic streak, few would deny that Wilson is ultimately destined for the Constitutional Court.

October 2022 Interview:

October 2022 Interview Synopses:

October 2022 JSC interview of Adv Stuart David James Wilson for a position on the Gauteng Division of the High Court. Advocate Wilson‘s application was successful

A leading human rights lawyer coming before the JSC is a rare sight to see, and Deputy Chief Justice Mandisa Maya (standing in for Chief Justice Zondo who was off on an overseas junket to Bali, Indonesia) relished the moment.

Maya started off by reading Advocate Stuart Wilson’s impressive CV, reminding him that he omitted to mention that he started and ran SERI – a leading public interest law firm ­– ultimately asking if he wouldn’t find the job of a judge, where he would be applying Black-letter law tedious? “Tedious is the last word I would use,” Wilson answering, noting that underlying every case is a mesh of social relations that are mediated by the application of law, adding that he enjoyed the dreary case management court – which is a tad unbelievable.

Pleasantries aside, Wilson’s interview’s quickly went into the thick of things. New commissioner Professor Clement Marumoagae pushed Wilson to answer if he subscribes to the notion that amending the Constitution’s property clause to allow expropriation of land without compensation would achieve land reform. Wilson, after explaining that the property clause has both ‘preservative’ parts (which would retain the status quo) and reformative parts, answered that many South Africans want the status quo to change and would support using the reform parts to achieve that change (in sum: the Constitution doesn’t need changing).

A visibly grumpy Labour Court Judge President Basheer Waglay noted that Wilson is “passionate” about housing and property law, “and it’s impressive because it does so much for so many,” …but that, “wouldn’t being a high court judge dim that passion… wouldn’t you grow despondent?”.

“I have not had an uninteresting week in the high court,” Wilson replied, adding “…even in the so-called mundane cases there’s a complex set of social relationships which give one an opportunity to apply constitutional values”.

Then came a bizarre but unsurprising question, considering Wilson’s strong British accent. “If I put to you that you are faithful to the Republic of South Africa and to King Charles III, what would you say?” barked Commissioner Thami Dodovu; to which Wilson replied, dryly, “I don’t see my British citizenship as an obstacle to my capacity to perform in terms of my judicial oath in South Africa,”.

Many regard Wilson’s interview as the gold standard of all JSC interviews, and rightly so. Although treated with a tinge of unfairness, it was overall a dignified affair, with a fair chunk devoted to intellectual rigour.

Advocate Stuart Wilson was recommended for appointment as a judge of the Gauteng High Court.