South African to give Ethel Benjamin address

One of the first judges appointed by Nelson Mandela when the South African Constitutional Court was established in 1994 will speak in Dunedin next week.

Justice Kate O'Regan will give the 16th annual Ethel Benjamin address at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery on Monday.

The commemorative address has been presented by the Otago Women Lawyers' Society every year since 1997.

It was inaugurated to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the first woman to be admitted as a barrister and solicitor in the southern hemisphere.

Ethel Benjamin began studying law at the University of Otago from 1893 and was admitted to the Bar in Dunedin on May 7, 1897, a year after the Female Law Practitioners' Act became law.

The primary objectives of the address are to honour and preserve the pioneering spirit possessed by Ethel Benjamin, to encourage education and achievement in the women of today and to stimulate debate about issues affecting social justice and gender.

The inaugural address was delivered in 1997 by former High Court judge and former governor-general Dame Silvia Cartwright.

Subsequent speakers have included Georgina te Heuheu, the first Maori woman to be admitted to legal practice; Dame Sian Elias, Chief Justice of New Zealand and a Supreme Court judge; Beverly McLachlin, Chief Justice of Canada; Susan Glazebrook, currently a judge of the Court of Appeal; and Lady Hale, Baroness Hale of Richmond, the first female Lord of Appeal in ordinary of the House of Lords and now a Justice of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom.

Justice O'Regan was one of only two women appointed to South Africa's Constitutional Court on its establishment after the country's transition to democracy. And, at the age of 37, she was the youngest.

Her 15-year term with the court ended in 2009 and, since 2008, she has chaired the United Nations' Internal Justice Council.

She has served as an ad hoc judge of the Namibian Supreme Court for the past two years, has been a member of the International Monetary Fund's Administrative Tribunal since 2010 and has also served the tribunal's president since since the beginning of last year.

A visiting professor at the University of Oxford and an honorary professor at the University of Cape Town (UCT), Justice O'Regan holds a BA and an LLB (cum laude) from UCT, where she was teaching law at the time of her 1994 appointment to the Constitutional Court.


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