Home > Research > Overview


Members of the Department are active in six key research units within the Faculty - the  Centre of Criminology, the Centre for Law and Society (CLS),  the Democratic Governance and Rights Unit (DGRU), the Institute of Marine and Environmental Law (IMEL), the Land and Accountability Research Centre (LARC) and the Refugee Rights Unit.

Centre of Criminology

The Centre is a niche research unit within the Faculty of Law at the University of Cape Town. The work of the Centre is focussed around some of the most pertinent challenges facing South Africa and Africa more generally within the overall context of an increasingly globalised world. 

This work includes a strong emphasis on research in: (1) developments and challenges for policing, both public, private and community driven, and reforms; (2) organised crime and illicit trafficking in South Africa and Africa, including with a focus on the evolution of criminal networks in fragile states and their impact on governance, democracy, livelihoods and the environment; (3) criminal justice policy challenges, with an emphasis on developing country contexts; and (4) violent crime, with particular attention to its impact on youth and women. 

The work of the Centre recognises the critical importance of addressing safety issues as a core challenge of holistic development. To do this requires stretching the boundaries of criminology in ways that will enable it to recognise and respond to the changing international, regional and local lanscape of risk. 

For more information visit their websites on: and

Centre for Law & Society

The Centre for Law and Society (previously Law, Race and Gender Research Unit) was established in 1993 to provide training and support to judicial officers as courts faced the challenge of transforming their structures and jurisprudence in line with constitutional and democratic values. From the outset CLS's approach was to translate excellent research into accessible training materials and to enlist judicial officers as peer facilitators. Participatory workshops provided an opportunity for researchers at CLS to share knowledge, but were also centrally about providing opportunities for participant magistrates to share information, learn from each other, and for CLS researchers to tap into the issues that were arising for this group. In this way CLS trained over a thousand judicial officers, developing training materials on issues including HIV, sexual offences, domestic violence, race and racism, and judicial ethics.

Since that time, CLS's areas of focus have expanded, but it has retained the emphasis on participation, knowledge sharing, and capacity building as central tenets of its scholarly approach. This commitment made it a particularly appropriate home for the establishment of the Rural Women's Action Research Programme (RWAR) in 2009. RWAR developed out of the work of Aninka Claassens and the Legal Resources Centre, on the Communal Land Rights Act litigation (which ultimately succeeded in having the CLRA declared unconstitutional), which similarly sat at a nexus between research, social engagement and litigation. Since that time, RWAR has become established as a critical and very influential voice in debates about customary law and traditional leadership. CLS remains involved in issues relating to judicial training and has substantial expertise in the area of gender-based violence.

For more information visit the website on:

Democratic Governance and Rights Unit

The DGRU's mission is to advance the principles and practice of constitutional democracy in Africa. Recognising the gap between the promise of constitutionalism and the reality of daily life for the majority of Africans, the DGRU aims to stimulate fresh thinking on the intersection between rights and transformative governance. In collaboration with others, the DGRU supports the process of law and policy reform, and informs debate, through inter-disciplinary research and advocacy.

Our primary focus is on the relationship between governance and human rights, and the unit has established itself as one of South Africa's leading research centres in the area of judicial governance, conducting research on the judicial appointments process, judicial ethics and on the future institutional modality of the judicial branch of government.

For more information visit their websites on:

Institute of Marine and Environmental Law

The mission of the Institute of Marine and Environmental Law is to conduct high quality research, teaching and consultancy work in the fields of marine and environmental law, and to produce publications and outputs of international excellence.

The Institute was founded in 1983 as the Institute of Marine Law, at the time when South Africa signed the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. During the 1990s environmental law became an increasing component of the Institute's work, and in 1999 it was re-named the Institute of Marine and Environmental Law to reflect this. It is currently housed within the Department of Public Law (Faculty of Law) at the University of Cape Town. It is the oldest and largest dedicated grouping of marine and environmental law scholars in Africa.

The Institute has four permanent academic staff. They are, Professor Loretta Feris, Ms Michaela Young (Lecturer), Professor Jan Glazewski and Professor Alexander Paterson. Professor Derry Devine, who is a former Director, continues to be a member of the Institute as an Emeritus Professor. Dr Jenny Hall and Dr Emma Witbooi are currently Honorary Research Associates of the Institute. The staff of the Institute undertake research and consultancy projects, individually and in partnership, in the fields of international, regional and domestic marine and environmental law. The Institute also collaborates in research and teaching with other faculties and departments at the University of Cape Town that specialise in marine and environmental subjects.

The Institute teaches postgraduate courses for the specialist LLM, MPhil and Diploma qualifications in marine law and environmental law. It also offers environmental law courses in the undergraduate LLB programme and inter-disciplinary courses in environmental law and marine law for postgraduate students from the science departments.

Visit IMEL's website for further information.

Land and Accountability Research Centre (LARC)

LARC is a research and advocacy unit concerned with power relations, and the impact of national laws and policy in framing the balance of patriarchal and autocratic power within which rural women and men struggle for democratic change at the local level. There has recently been a push from government to introduce laws and policies giving traditional leaders unaccountable powers over “subjects” living in the former homeland areas of South Africa. The objective is to hold back traditional leadership laws that threaten rural democracy and propose alternative laws and policies that promote rural democracy and are consistent with living law.

For more information visit their websites on:

Refugee Rights Unit

The Refugee Rights Unit was founded in 1998 as a Project within the UCT Law Clinic, aimed at providing legal support services to the growing number of refugees and asylum seekers in South Africa.  It has since evolved into a fully independent unit, with four main components: the Unit’s Refugee Law Clinic provides direct legal services to thousands of refugees and asylum seekers in the Western Cape each year; the Unit conducts applied research in refugee law and related topics; it teaches refugee law to undergraduate law and master’s students within the Department of Public Law; and, it undertakes a significant amount of targeted advocacy and training of government officials, the judiciary, civil society partners and refugee communities. 

The close relationship between the Refugee Law Clinic’s practice, the Unit’s teaching of Refugee and Immigration Law courses to LLB and LLM students, and the Unit’s research is a unique aspect of the Unit’s work. The Refugee Law Clinic provides the Unit with a close link to the practical application of refugee law in South Africa and therefore directly informs and supports the Unit’s teaching activities and research outputs.  Students often engage with the most current issues facing refugees and asylum seekers in South Africa, including those involved in the strategic litigations undertaken by the Refugee Law Clinic. Students are also encouraged to volunteer at the Refugee Law Clinic in order to gain practical experience and fulfil community service requirements. The Unit’s teaching component includes the direct supervision of undergraduate and graduate level research work in the field of refugee and immigration law.

The Working Paper Series ( publishes the research reports of the Refugee Rights Unit, occasional papers of the Unit members and versions of some of the papers presented by the Refugee Rights Unit members.  A key focus of the Working Papers is the promotion of the rights of refugees in South Africa and the global South.

The Refugee Rights Unit remains not only committed to directly assisting refugees and asylum seekers but also in teaching and engaging in research which can be used to promote and further the law in this area and as an advocacy tool in the future.

For more information visit their websites on:


Southern African Legal Information Institute (SAFLII)

The Southern African Legal Information Institute (SAFLII) is an online repository of legal information from South Africa that aims to promote the rule of law and judicial accountability by publishing legal material for open access in line with the objectives of the global Free Access to Law Movement.

SAFLII also hosts legal materials from other countries in the region, which are obtained through partnerships and collaborative efforts with governments, courts, law societies and more recently through linking to other Legal Information Institutes being established in these regions.

SAFLII's projects have been commended by the Southern African Chief Justices Forum, The South African Parliament as well as the Office of the Chief Justice.

SAFLII was previously a project of the South African Constitutional Court Trust and is currently in operation from within the Department of Public Law at the University of Cape Town. It is the largest online free-access collection of journals, judgments and legislation from South Africa."

For more information visit their websites on: