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Judge Katherine Mary Savage

Capacity: Judge
First appointed as a judge: Western Cape High Court ( January 2015)
Further Appointments: Labour Appeal Court (2023)
United Nations Appeal Tribunal (2023)
Gender:  Female
Ethnicity: White
Date of Birth: January 1968
Qualifications: BA (1988), LLB (1991)(UCT), LLM summa cum laude (1997) (Notre Dame, USA)

Key judgments:

Candidate Bio | Updated October 2023

Judge Katharine ‘Kate’ Savage is a judge of the Western Cape High Court, and the United Nations Appeal Tribunal.

Few people can count themselves as the midwives of a new constitutional democracy, but Judge Kate Savage can easily claim that title. At the drafting of South Africa new democratic constitution from 1995, Savage worked in the African National Congress’s Constitutional Commission. She, alongside several experts drafted key parts of the constitution including sections of the Bill of Rights and the preamble to the entire constitution.

At the time, Savage had recently completed articles of clerkship as a candidate attorney at Chennels Albertyn Attorneys (1992 – 1994), and worked as deputy director of mediation services at the Western Cape office of the Independent Electoral Commission (1994).

Mediation as a form of dispute resolution practice would play a big part of Savage’s career in later years. After a brief stint as an attorney at the Legal Resources Centre (1996 – 1997), Savage worked fulltime as a commissioner at the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) from 1997 to 2000.

From 2000, she established her own law firm, Katharine Savage Attorneys and was admitted as a notary public in 2002. In 2004 her firm merged with another labour specialist law firm to form Haffegee Savage Inc, where she stayed on as partner for 4 years. She also worked part-time at human rights law firm, the Centre for Applied Legal Studies, on its education law and services projects.

In 2008, Savage joined ‘Big 5’ law firm Bowman Gilfillan as director in its employment and labour litigation department. Now a senior attorney with a robust practice, Savage then heeded the call of judicial office.

From 2012 Savage returned to Haffegee Roskam Savage as a partner but in the meantime served nine terms as an acting high court judge (between Oct 2012 and Dec 2014).

On 1 January 2015 Savage was permanently appointed as a judge of the Western Cape High Court.

While primarily a labour law specialist, her love for constitutional law never left her.

At the opening of Parliament in February 2015 – an event broadcast live on television, radio and other media – President Jacob Zuma faced a rowdy rebellion from members of the opposition Economic Freedom Fighters. The EFF members, with their red overalls, demanded answers about the millions of public money spent upgrading Zuma’s private homestead – and were determined to stop proceedings until they got an answer. As soon as Zuma took to the podium, the EFF chanted “point of order!” while banging their plastic mineworkers’ hats on the parliamentary benches, causing a loud din in the chamber. The Speaker sought to bring the house to order but to no avail.

Remarkably, while all of this was going on, the television feed was fixed on the Speaker’s face and not on the dramatic scenes playing out in the chamber. Journalists also couldn’t live-tweet the drama as their cellphones were jammed.

These two incidents became the subject of litigation in Primedia Broadcasting v Speaker, a case that came before a full bench of 3 judges in the Western Cape High Court. Primedia went to court to declare as unconstitutional and invalid the Speaker’s decision to block the television feed from showing what was actually happening, and the ‘signal-jamming’ that prevented journalists from tweeting. The Speaker argued that the Parliament was well within its rights to block the broadcast of disorder in the chamber, in line with internal policies, and courts had to respect that. Furthermore, the signal-jamming decision was taken as a security precaution in the face of threats to the President and Deputy President. Two judges of the High Court upheld the Speaker’s decision and dismissed Primedia’s application. However, Savage wrote the lone dissenting judgment. She found that the Speaker’s decisions to limit broadcast and jam the signal were constitutionally invalid as they violated journalists constitutionally protected rights, and key principles such as openness and transparency. She wrote:

“Openness repels the exercise of secret power and ensures accountability to the people. The measures unreasonably limit public access to a visual broadcast of important events involving elected representatives in a manner which requires such information to be obtained only from the print media or, as is increasingly the case, from social media. Given our country’s torrid history of censorship and media restriction, the measures are unreasonable in their impact on openness, accountability, free expression and media freedom.”

On appeal, the Supreme Court of Appeal reversed the High Court’s majority decision and upheld Savage’s minority judgment as correct.

However, Savage’s most important contributions as a judge may have come from the labour law domain – her first love. Indeed, months after her permanent appointment as a high court judge in 2015, Savage was invited to act as a judge of the Labour Appeal Court, where she has now served 21 terms (2015 – 2023). Savage also served a term acting the Supreme Court of Appeal and three terms in the Competition Appeal Court, giving her more wholesome appellate experience.

Through her judgments, Savage has helped stamp out the scourge of sexual harassment in the workplace. Three cases illustrate this point.

In Liberty v M, an unfair discrimination claim by an employee who had resigned due to sexual harassment she suffered under her line manager, Savage held that the employer, Liberty, had failed to take reasonable steps to protect employees and was liable to compensate the victim R250 000.

In the Campbell Scientific Africa (Pty) Ltd v Simmers case, an employee was found guilty of sexual harassment and dismissed. He challenged his dismissal as substantively and procedurally unfair. The Labour Court agreed, finding that, although his conduct was inappropriate, it did not amount to sexual harassment. On appeal, Savage reversed the Labour Court’s judgment and found that the conduct complained of was indeed sexual harassment. As such, the employee’s dismissal was both procedurally and substantively fair.

In Ekurhuleni v SALGBC, a learner driver went to a vehicle testing station to first book her learners’ test and later take the test. On both occasions, a cashier at the station made lude sexual remarks to her. After a hearing, the cashier was dismissed. On review at the bargaining council, the cashier was still found guilty but his dismissal was replaced with reinstatement with a final written warning. On further review, the Labour Court reversed the guilty finding and the written warning, finding the cashier not guilty due to lack of evidence. However, when it came on appeal in the Labour Appeal Court, Savage overruled the Labour Court and stated that the complainant’s evidence was never challenged and it was inappropriate for the Labour Court to revisit that issue. In any event, the cashier had admitted to having committed the acts. She therefore found the cashier’s dismissal as fair in light of their conduct of sexual harassment against a member of the public.

Savage graduated with BA and LLB degrees from the University of Cape Town in 1988 and 1991 respectively. In 1997 she obtained an LLM summa cum laude from the University of Notre Dame in the United States. She is currently enrolled for a PhD in public Law at UCT.

Savage has several academic publications to her name, including on South Africa’s constitutional negotiations, the release of political prisoners, and compensation for victims of crime.

In 2023 Savage followed the path of 3 other local judges and was nominated by the South African Government to serve as a judge of United Nations Appeal Tribunal, an administrative tribunal responsible for deciding disputes between the UN and its staff from around the world.

October 2023 Interview

Judge Kathrine Savage’s October 2023 interview for a position on the Labour Appeal Court was successful. She was nominated for appointment.