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Judge D C Fisher SC

Capacity: Judge
Further appointments: N/A
First appointed as a judge: 20-01-2017 (Gauteng, Johannesburg)
Gender: Female
Ethnicity: White
Date of Birth: 30 November 1963

Key Judgements:

Candidate bio:

Judge Denise Carol Fisher can easily be considered one of the finest commercial judges in South Africa at the moment. At a time when the judiciary is often criticized for the dearth of expertise in dealing with complex commercial cases speedily and effectively, Fisher is bucking the trend and producing a steady stream of judgments that impress both commercial lawyers and appeal judges.

First appointed as a judge in the Gauteng High Court in 2017, Fisher is part of the small team of judges behind the successful revival of the Johannesburg Commercial Court. It comes as no surprise as prior to her judicial appointment she spent 27 years practising as an advocate (including as senior counsel from 2009), with a strong practice that spanned diverse legal fields such as commercial law, insolvency, constitutional law, administrative law, intellectual property, and delict.

Prior to her permanent appointment, Fisher held an acting stint at the Gauteng High Court for 19 weeks and handed down 41 judgements. She was appointed acting judge in the Competition Appeal Court in 2020 and continues to hold the appointment. In Competition Commission v Beefcor, the question arose whether the withdrawal of a complaint before the Competition Tribunal means that competition investigation and enforcement proceedings are extinguished. Writing for a unanimous bench of 3 judges, Fisher carefully analysed the provisions of the Competition Act in light of legal precedence from as far afield as the US and England, and academic commentary in South Africa, and answered the question in the affirmative. Although Fisher’s judgment was ultimately reversed on appeal to the Constitutional Court, many of the principles were affirmed.

In GM v KI, a case dealing with the rights and responsibilities of so-called ‘deadbeat’ or absent fathers, Fisher held that that the Children’s Act a parent’s responsibility to maintain towards his children is not terminated or suspended by the extent of rights they have to the child (i.e. simply a father does not have access to the child does not mean they can stop paying maintenance). She found that the common law duty of a father to maintain his children existed independently of any rights he acquired (or failed to acquire) in terms of the Children’s Act. In the Mpolokeng case she found that lawyers must put in place systems to protect the interests of children whose parents are victims of car accidents, and that the courts must maintain oversight over RAF compensation payments meant to benefit the children of deceased parents.

In another case dealing with children, Fisher wrote the seminal judgment in Taylor v RAF which exposed the rampant looting and corruption by plaintiff’s attorneys who unscrupulously inflate compensation claims against the RAF meant for child beneficiaries. “The unchecked flow of funds creates an incentive for fraud, corruption and maladministration,” Fisher stated. This judgment led to a large-scale independent audit of settlement agreements signed between plaintiff’s attorneys and the RAF, and the recovery of some of the monies unduly paid out.

Fisher holds a BA and LLB degrees from the University of the Witwatersrand if an accredited mediator. She joined the Johannesburg Bar in 1989 and was actively involved in its affairs, including chairing the committee which drafted the Equity and Diversity and Harassment policies.

October 2021 JSC Interview 

Interview of Judge Denise Fisher by the JSC, October 2021, for a position on the Competition Appeal Court

Judge Fisher’s application was unsuccessful. She was not nominated for appointment.

October 2016 JSC Interview 

October 2016 Interview Synopses

Asked by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng about her experiences working as a female advocate, Fisher said that when she first started off in the profession she was “given very few opportunities to act in matters of some substance” and was also “not given many briefs.”

The latter, Fisher said, was “a matter of concern” since this was important for the “mentorship” of juniors. Fisher maintained that the paucity of briefs was “because of my gender.” She added that while things have improved, transformation, especially for black females, was still “moving too slowly.”

Reacting to a question about transformation at the Bar by commissioner Dikgang Stock, Fisher identified “poverty” as a major stumbling block to transformation at the Bar. She related tales of young juniors sleeping in their masters’ chambers on the eve of a court appearance and washing their clothes at the office because they didn’t have the taxi-fare to commute.

Fisher was probed on her strong views against the death penalty which she said was about “human life and dignity. Its about the dignity of our country. Living in a country where the law stoops to kill its citizens is prehistoric.”

Later, Fisher added that the law had to be “merciful” and that would be impossible if the “fervour” of familial loss was allowed to colour the dispensing of justice: “The state has got to be an example to people. I don’t believe the state can teach others that killing is wrong, if it does so itself.”

Asked by Advocate Mike Hellens SC about her judicial philosophy, Fisher said “everything boils down to a protection of the rule-of-law that has got to be central to any philosophy on the law.” She added that judges must be mindful of the Constitution and its “rehabilitative and formative aspects.”