Justice Richard Goldstone

"I didn’t believe that in my time there would be democracy in South Africa, a Constitutional Court that was looked up to by jurists, certainly in the democracies around the world. I didn’t believe that I would be appointed to that Court. Certainly the high point in my career was my appointment by President Mandela to that Court."

Justice Richard Goldstone was one of four Supreme Court judges appointed to the first Bench of the Constitutional Court. This appointment forms part of a long and illustrious career starting as a corporate lawyer, then as a Supreme and Appellate Court judge, and then as the head of various inquiries at home and abroad into issues of local and international importance.

UN Photo/Mark Garten

Early Life and Career

I spent most days with my maternal grandfather and when I was young, he taught me to type and to play chess and to use libraries and read. There were no lawyers in our immediate family but he decided I was born to be a lawyer. And if that’s what he thought, that was sort of accepted by me, which made my young years very easy because I had no difficult choices to make.

Richard Goldstone

Justice of the first bench of the Constitutional Court

Richard Joseph Goldstone was born on 26 October 1938. He graduated from the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) with a BA LLB degree (cum laude) in 1962. During his time at Wits, he was elected as President of the Students’ Representative Council (SRC) as well as on the Executive Committee of the National Union of South African Students.

I didn’t really become involved politically until I went to university …  My parents were always against any form of racial or religious discrimination, but they were by no means activists in the sense of politics and I never met black people in my parents’ home. So it was quite a shock to me going to Wits and to meet black South Africans as peers, as equals. In my first few days, I became friendly with a black student who was in my class and I learnt first-hand what he had to live with every day of his life. How we were equals on campus but the minute he stepped off he had his Pass to worry about. He had to live in Soweto.

Richard Goldstone

Justice of the first bench of the Constitutional Court

After graduating, Goldstone practised as an advocate at the Johannesburg Bar. In 1976, he was appointed senior counsel and in 1980 was made a judge of the Transvaal Supreme Court. In 1989, he was appointed to the Appellate Division.

I can honestly say, there was no case where I really was forced to hand down a judgment or concur in a judgment that went against my moral or political convictions.

Richard Goldstone

Justice of the first bench of the Constitutional Court

I castigated magistrates for referring to black witnesses and the accused as ‘witness’ or as ‘accused’ rather than as ‘Mr so and so’. They would never do that with whites – it was always ‘Mr Smith’, but it was 11 ‘accused’ in the case of black people. I wrote a judgment that this was demeaning of the courts and brought the courts into disrepute and that all people should be respected. That was the end of that practice.

Richard Goldstone

Justice of the first bench of the Constitutional Court

From 1991 to 1994, Goldstone served as the Chairperson of the Commission of Inquiry Regarding the Prevention of Public Violence and Intimidation, which came to be known as the Goldstone Commission. This Commission played a high-profile role in investigating the violence that wracked the country during the years of transition from apartheid to democracy. 

From 1994 to 2003, he was the Chairperson of the board of the Human Rights Institute of South Africa; of which he remains a trustee. From 1995 until March 2007 he served as the Chancellor of Wits. From 15 August 1994 to September 1996, he served as the Chief Prosecutor of the United Nations’ International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda.  Goldstone was a member of the international panel established by the government of Argentina in August 1997 to monitor the inquiry into Nazi activities in the republic since 1938. 

From August 1999 to December 2001 he was the Chairperson of the International Independent Inquiry on Kosovo. In December 2001 he was appointed the co-Chairperson of the International Task Force on Terrorism, which was established by the International Bar Association.

Appointment to the Constitutional Court

Goldstone was appointed to the Constitutional Court in 1994 by President Nelson Mandela. He served as a judge of the Constitutional Court from July 1994 to October 2003.

Well, the first thing I knew about it was a phone call from the then Minister of Justice, Dullah Omar, who said that the government had decided that I should be one of the four existing judges appointed to the Court … Obviously I was delighted, I mean, that’s the greatest thing that could ever happen …

But within less than a week of that invitation and acceptance, I received the invitation to become the Chief Prosecutor of the War Crimes Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia … And I really wasn’t interested … I was at the point of sending off a fax politely declining, when my phone rang and it was President Nelson Mandela. And he said, ‘I believe you’ve been invited to be the Chief Prosecutor.’ And I said, ‘Yes, Mr President,’ and I said, ‘I’m about to decline the invitation,’ and I gave him my reason. ‘Well, not so fast,’ he said. ‘I think you should do it. In fact, I’ve already told the Secretary-General that you would do it.’ And so that really left me with little option … And I spoke to Dullah Omar and he said that the Cabinet had decided that I should accept the invitation from the United Nations, because it was the first offer of any important position to a South African after our democracy, and Madiba (Nelson Mandela) particularly felt that we owed a lot to the United Nations for its support for the anti-apartheid campaign, and during the whole negotiating period. And Omar said to me that the Cabinet had decided to amend the Constitution to allow me to take leave of absence.

Richard Goldstone

Justice of the first bench of the Constitutional Court

Goldstone on serving on the Constitutional Court:

Every single day I spent on the Constitutional Court, the colour or background of people meant absolutely nothing. We addressed issues, I think, with integrity and openly. Obviously in cases dealing with customary law, the black judges, especially those who had grown up in it, were of tremendous importance. But I wouldn’t exaggerate it. I think diversity is important, but in many ways I think it’s more important from the point of the public face of the Court than from the internal workings of the Court.

Richard Goldstone

Justice of the first bench of the Constitutional Court

The greatest achievement has been really to make the Bill of Rights a living instrument … I enjoy reading ridiculous threats in some of the newspapers, saying, ‘I’ll take you to the Constitutional Court.’ I mean, that’s a compliment that people see this Court as a place where they’re going to get justice, even if they’re the biggest crooks in the world.

Richard Goldstone

Justice of the first bench of the Constitutional Court

Judgments of Interest

Carmichele v Minister of Safety and Security and Minister of Justice (2001)

Alix Carmichele was attacked by a man who had been released on bail. This, despite the community and Carmichele herself raising concerns to the police that he was extremely dangerous. This case dealt with whether the police can be held responsible for the man’s actions after his release on bail. In a joint judgment by Justices Ackerman and Goldstone, the Constitutional Court found that the police should be held liable and responsible in this case, which had far reaching implications for the safety and security of women.

Few things can be more important to women than freedom from the threat of sexual violence … Sexual violence and the threat of sexual violence goes to the core of women’s subordination in society. It is the single greatest threat to the self-determination of South African women.

Justices Laurie Ackermann and Richard Goldstone

the Carmichele judgment, 16 August 2001

Hugo v President of the Republic of South Africa (1997)

The President, acting in terms of his constitutional powers to pardon and reprieve offenders had granted release to prisoners in certain categories. One of the categories was certain mothers in prison with minor children under the age of twelve years. The respondent, a single father of a child under twelve at the relevant date, challenged the constitutionality of the pardon saying that it unfairly discriminated against him and his son on the ground of sex or gender in violation of section 8 of the interim Constitution.

In a judgment written by Justice Goldstone, the majority of the Court held that while the pardon discriminated against the respondent on the basis of sex this discrimination was not unfair. The Court found that although the pardon may have denied men an opportunity it afforded women, it could not be said that it fundamentally impaired their sense of dignity and equal worth. The pardon merely deprived them of an early release to which they in any event had no legal entitlement since the grant of a pardon is a matter purely within the discretion of the President. 

At the heart of the prohibition of unfair discrimination lies a recognition that the purpose of our new constitutional and democratic order is the establishment of a society in which all human beings will be accorded equal dignity and respect regardless of their membership of particular groups. The achievement of such a society in the context of our deeply inegalitarian past will not be easy, but that that is the goal of the Constitution should not be forgotten or overlooked.

Justice Richard Goldstone

the Hugo judgment, 18 April 1997

Life after the Constitutional Court

In April 2004, the Secretary-General of the United Nations appointed Goldstone to the independent committee to investigate the Iraqi Oil-For-Food programme (the Volcker Committee). In October 2007, he was appointed by the Registrars of the United Nations International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda to chair an Advisory Committee on the Archiving of the Documents and Records of the two tribunals.

Goldstone has received honorary doctorates from over 20 different institutions around the world.

Family and Personal Life

Goldstone is married to Noleen Goldstone and they have two daughters and four grandsons.

One thing I was aware of, particularly during the Goldstone Commission, was that Richard was a part of history. I said to our children ‘do you know daddy’s name will be in the history books of this country for many years to come’.

Noleen Goldstone

Justice Goldstone’s wife

In the words of others

Richard was the person in our ranks who was very keen on ensuring that there’d be good communications with the press. He based this on his experience in setting up the prosecutions office for the former Yugoslavia War Crimes Tribunal. I understand that when he started, the Tribunal was getting nowhere. They couldn’t get funds, nobody understood what they were doing. So he had to constantly be finding stories … to engage public interest and attention.

Albie Sachs,

former Justice of the Constitutional Court

Richard Goldstone is a soft-spoken, authoritative and confident commentator on his own life and the events of his era. He is justifiably proud of the role he has played in applying international justice throughout the world.

Daniel Terris

author of The Trials of Richard Goldstone

When you go through the trauma of detention, instinctively you know who are the good people and who are the bad people. It is simply human nature. So when I saw him [Richard Goldstone] for the first time, instinctively I knew that this was a good person, this individual had integrity.

Zwelakhe Sisulu

political activist

While I was detained, this white man pitched up one day and I did not know who he was and he introduced himself and said he was Richard Goldstone – he is a judge and is going around looking at the conditions of detainees and he asked me who I was and what I did. I told him I was a journalist. He went away and came back with about 30 National Geographic magazines. I had never read National Geographic in my whole life before but when he left me with those I sat there and started reading. Those National Geographics took me out of that cell, for the time I was reading them I was not in that cell, I was out there.

Mathatha Tsedu

activist and journalist

What he had the wisdom to concentrate on, was getting people to pay attention to us. He was tireless.

Minna Schrag

then Senior Trial Attorney for International War Crimes Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia


Audio Visual

President Mandela gives his State of the Nation address in Parliament. Mandela ends his address with the words, “Let us all get down to work”.

“We must construct that people-centred society of freedom in such a manner that it guarantees the political and the human rights of all our citizens.”– President Mandela, extract from State of the Nation Address, 24 May 1994

President Nelson Mandela announces his cabinet. It includes members of the African National Congress, National Party and Inkatha Freedom Party.

“There was pride in serving in the first democratic government in South Africa, and then the additional pride of serving under the iconic leadership of Nelson Mandela … [He] represented the hopes of not just our country, but of oppressed, marginalised and the poor in the world.”– Jay Naidoo, then Minister of RDP housing
“We place our vision of a new constitutional order for South Africa on the table not as conquerors, prescribing to the conquered. We speak as fellow citizens to heal the wounds of the past with the intent of constructing a new order based on justice for all.”– President Nelson Mandela, 10 May 1994