Interrogating justice: Research on race and gender bias in the South African court system

Date01 March 1995
DOI10.1177/135822919500100104
Publication Date01 March 1995
AuthorChristina Murray
International Journal
of
Discrimination and
the
Law,
1995,
Vol.
1,
pp.
29-38
1358-2291/95
$10
©
1995
A B
Academic
Publishers.
Printed
in
Great
Britain
INTERROGATING JUSTICE: RESEARCH
ON
RACE
AND
GENDER BIAS IN THE SOUTH AFRICAN COURT
SYSTEM
CHRISTINA
MURRAY
Director
of
the Law, Race and Gender Research Unit and Professor in
the Department
of
Public Law, University
of
Cape Town, Private Bag,
Rondebosch, 7700 South Africa*
ABSTRACT
This article provides a brief description
of
the work
of
the Law, Race and Gender
Research Unit
of
the University
of
Cape Town. The Unit was established
to
do
research on race and gender bias in the administration
of
justice and to explore the
possibility
of
judicial training in South Africa. Its first projects concerned the now-
submerged racism
of
discourse in the magistrates' courts and gender bias in
divorce cases. More recently the Unit has undertaken an empirical study
of
divorce
cases. Covering applications for interdicts pending divorce, the role
of
the family
advocate, and maintenance procedures, this work provides a view of cases which
focuses on the circumstances
of
the parties rather than the law. A study on the
allocation of housing assessed the extent to which the system caters for women
with dependents. Finally, the article describes work on the new Prevention
of
Family Violence Act.
Until very recently, judicial education programmes have not been appropriate
in South Africa for political reasons. The article suggests that this has changed and
foresees the Unit's future involvement in such training programmes.
Until very recently, the South African legal system was almost syn-
onymous with discrimination. The Population Registration Act 30
of
1950, the Group Areas Act
41
of
1966 and various statutes limiting the
access
of
Africans to land and restricting their freedom
of
movement
were notorious parts
of
a legalized system
of
racial discrimination.
Unsurprisingly, this formal system
of
race discrimination was accom-
panied by equally discriminatory informal practices in the administra-
tion
of
justice. The summary nature
of
trials under the pass laws in
particular has been well documented1 but it seems fair in general to say
that black people received second-class justice throughout the system,
* E-mail addresses: debbud@law.uct.ac.za or murray@law.uct.ac.za.

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