Mandela, Kentridge and the rule of law

The world is grieving today over the loss of Nelson Mandela. Chief among those mourners, we suspect, will be legendary advocate Sir Sydney Kentridge QC.

The 90-year old silk, a tenant at Brick Court, defended the South African leader in 1958 when he was charged with treason and played a core part in seeking justice for not one but three Nobel Prize winners: Mandela himself, Desmond Tutu and Albert Luthuli. His extraordinary work for the rule of law in South Africa and the UK netted him The Lawyer’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2001. Kentridge told The Lawyer that Mandela exuded greatness even then: “When he went into the witness box where I examined him it was quite obvious that he was a future leader,” he said.

Stories of the apartheid regime are familiar to us all, but few lawyers can rival Kentridge’s experience at the eye of the storm. Perhaps his finest hour came at the inquest into the death of black consciousness leader Steve Biko, where he acted for Biko’s family and tore apart the police’s claims that the activist had died from a hunger strike.

On today we are featuring some of Kentridge’s work, drawn from our archives. They include a battle with the US administration over Guantanamo Bayprisoners.

The iconic barrister stepped away from full-time work earlier this year – at 90 years old. What an inspiration.

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