Fonds BC1551 - Justice John Didcott Papers

Reference code

ZA UCT BC1551

Title

Justice John Didcott Papers

Date(s)

  • 1950 - 1991 (Accumulation)

Level of description

Fonds

Extent and medium

11 archival boxes and an oversize folder

Name of creator

(1931-1998)

Biographical history

Archival history

John Mowbray Didcott (1931–1998) was a South African lawyer, judge and a Justice of the Constitutional Court of South Africa from the court's opening on 14 February 1995 until his death. Didcott was known for his firm support of human rights during 23 years on the bench in and after the apartheid era.

Didcott was born on 14 August 1931 in Durban. After matriculating at Hilton College, near Pietermaritzburg in 1948 he went to the University of Cape Town (UCT) where he obtained a BA in 1951 and an LLB in 1953. At university he involved himself in student politics and gained a reputation as a powerful public speaker. He was twice elected president of the UCT Students' Representative Council (SRC) and later became President of the National Union of South African Students (NUSAS) (1954-1956). Didcott was a founder member of the Liberal Party of South Africa which brought him to the attention of the security police. In 1953 he was awarded an Abe Bailey Travel Bursary to the United Kingdom. He was also a member of the team representing the International Student Conference, which visited universities in South-East Asia for six months in 1955 and 1956.

After graduating, Didcott was admitted to the Bar in Cape Town on 26 February 1954, but then joined the Cape Argus for a year as Supreme Court reporter. That experience alerted him to the difficulties and challenges faced by journalists and the media, and he was always an avid reader of newspapers, although often critical of their shortcomings. In July 1956 Didcott moved to Durban to set up chambers. Shortly thereafter (during the 1960 State of Emergency) he was tipped off that the security police planned to detain him for his political activities, and he fled the country to Southern Rhodesia, where he spent some months as a prosecutor until it was safe to return. He returned to the Durban Bar where he built up a successful legal practice. He was appointed a Senior Counsel on 19 July 1967 and was Chairman of the Bar from 1973 to 1975. He served as an acting judge of the Natal Provincial Division in 1971 and again in 1975. In June 1975, at the comparatively young age of 44, he was invited to take an appointment as a judge. For someone with strong liberal principles it involved careful thought. He had to balance the problem of administering apartheid legislation with the possibility of making a difference on the Bench and somehow helping to alleviate the impact of unjust laws. Convinced of the useful contribution he could make, he accepted. In 1994 he became a member of the Special Electoral Court for South Africa's first fully democratic general election in 1994 and later that year he was appointed to the Constitutional Court.

In April 1991, in recognition of his contribution to the University and of his attempts to promote justice in an unjust society, the University of Natal awarded the degree of Doctor of Laws, Honoris Causa to him. His contribution to law and society was also recognised by the University of Durban-Westville which made him its Chancellor in 1989. He also received honorary degrees from the University of Cape Town and the University of the Witwatersrand. Didcott was also appointed as an honorary professor in the Department of Procedural and Clinical Law at the University of Natal in 1989.

Justice Didcott served on the Constitutional Court from its inception in 1994 until his death in 1998. He died on 20 October 1998, after a battle with cancer.

Immediate source of acquisition or transfer

The material in this collection was donated by Sally Goldman, daughter of Justice John Didcott, in 2010.

Scope and content

The collection includes a few personal papers and some University of Cape Town Students’ Representative Council minutes, but comprises mainly records of the National Union of South African Students c.1950-1956, and some NUSAS and other publications.

Notes:
Material belonging to Justice Didcott that related to the Liberal Party was donated by Sally Goldman to the Alan Paton Centre, and that of a judicial nature to the Killie Campbell Library.
The NUSAS material in this collection supplements and fills gaps in the NUSAS Archive in the custody of Special Collections (BC586).

Accruals

System of arrangement

Conditions governing access

No restrictions

Conditions governing reproduction

Standard

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Finding aids

Existence and location of originals

Material belonging to Justice Didcott that related to the Liberal Party was donated by Sally Goldman to the Alan Paton Centre, and that of a judicial nature to the Killie Campbell Library.
The NUSAS material in this collection supplements and fills gaps in the NUSAS Archive in the custody of Special Collections (BC586).

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Status

Final

Level of detail

Full

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Physical location

  • Shelf: 54b