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Historical note

Historical note

It was just over 150 years ago, with the Act 12 of 1858, that the teaching of law in South Africa was launched, although the first lecture was not delivered until March 18th 1859. The early years were documented most eloquently by Professor Denis Cowen in the history of the faculty, A History, 1858 - 2004 that he co-authored with Danie Visser.

Lectures in the old days were for some time given in the Master's Meeting Room in the old Supreme Court at the top of Adderley Street, but after 1896 the College Council made determined - and it would seem largely successful - efforts to insist that lectures be given in the College Buildings in Government Avenue.

The year 1916 began a new Chapter in the story of legal education in South Africa. In that year provision was made for the creation of the Universities of Stellenbosch and Cape Town. The Cape Town Act specifically provided that the old South African College should become and be incorporated as a University, thereby maintaining continuity with our early history. What was new, however, and of the greatest importance, was the decision taken by the University authorities to appoint full-time professors of law.

In 1923 a Chair of Roman Law and Jurisprudence was established out of funds raised in memory of Mr W P Schreiner; and in 1925 a third Chair of Law was established. The first occupants of these two Chairs were respectively the late Professor J Kerr Wylie (1924-1948) and the late Professor Eric Emmett (1925-1945). Meanwhile, student numbers continued to grow until in 1939, 74 were registered in the Faculty.

After World War II numbers increased rapidly; and today (2010) some 900 students, drawn mostly from South Africa, but also from 18 other countries are registered in the Faculty, with just over half registered for Masters and Postgraduate Diplomas, and with a growing number registered for PhDs.