Albie Sachs
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Justinian in On the Couch

This month Albie Sachs has been singing for his supper ... The former constitutional judge from South Africa has been on a lecture tour of Australia ... Law firm boardrooms and village halls have been packed with enthusiastic admirers ... Meet the lawyer that prison and a crippling bomb attack couldn't silence  

Sachs: a talent for empathisingAlbie Sachs retired a year ago as a judge of the Constitutional Court of South Africa. 

He was appointed to the court by President Nelson Mandela in 1994. 

He started as a barrister at the Cape Town bar when he was 21, but ultimately his anti-apartheid activities landed him in prison.

After he was released he lived in England and Mozambique, where he lost an arm and the sight of one eye after his car was bombed by South African security agents. 

He returned to South Africa where he worked on the preparation of the new Constitution as a member of the constitutional committee and national executive of the African National Congress.

He wrote the Constitutional Court's famous 2005 decision in Minister of Home Affairs v Fourie, which declared a constitutional right to same sex marriage. 

His most recent book, The Strange Alchemy of Life and Law, was published last year. 

This month he has been on an extensive tour of Australia, talking about constitutional developments in post-apartheid South Africa, human rights and history. 

Into his on-the-run speaking schedule he squeezed in a reflective session on Justinian's couch.  

Describe yourself in three words.
A nice guy.

What are you currently reading?
"The Whisperer" by Donato Caprisi.

What's your favourite film?
"The Wizard of Oz."

Who has been the most influential person in your life?
Oliver Tambo, ANC leader, a soft person in a hard struggle.

What occupation would you like to have, if you hadn't become a lawyer and a judge?
Film maker.

What is your favourite piece of music?
Schubert's Great String Quintet, slow movement.
What is your most recognised talent?
What is your greatest fear?
Letting go and falling into a void.

What words or phrases do you overuse?
"I" and "My".

What is your greatest regret?
I have been unkind to women.

Whom do you envy and why?
My wife Vanessa, for her instant warmth, spontaneous intelligence and unbidden courage.

What has been your most significant judicial achievement?
Finding the poetry that illuminates intelligence at the heart of the judicial function.
What would you change about South Africa?
I would move Johannesburg to the sea.
What's your most glamorous feature?
My vaulting humility.

If you were a foodstuff, what would you be?
Intensely flavoured marzipan wrapped in a thin layer of dark chocolate.

What human traits do you most distrust?
Vaulting ambition.

Whom or what do you consider overrated?
On what occasions do you use a breath-freshener?
When sitting close to a typist or dinner companion and even when standing far from someone special.

What would your epitaph say?
He was a good guy.

What comes into your mind when you shut your eyes and think of the word "law"?
A spiderweb. Add the word "justice" and the web becomes a flower.

Article originally appeared on Justinian: Australian legal magazine. News on lawyers and the law (
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