The Judicial Role in Defining National Security and Access to Information in South Africa

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Democracy and Security, Volume 11, p.275–297 (2015)



This article argues that judicial and other institutions concerned with legal interpretation are playing an increasing role in regulating and defining the concept of national security for South Africa, particularly in the realm of national security information. Part I surveys the post-apartheid evolution of accountability of South Africa’s national security agencies with particular attention to the treatment of national security information. Starting from a low base, intelligence agencies in South Africa have become more accountable, in part through the greater degree of access to national security information. Part II portrays the placement of access to national security information within South Africa’s legislative framework, taking into account the keys laws underpinning both secrecy and disclosure regulation. Here, with no definition of national security on the secrecy side, it is on the disclosure side of South Africa’s legislative framework that the judiciary and other legal actors are crafting an operative definition of national security. Part III covers three recent developments, arguing that they demonstrate the increasingly important regulatory role played by the judiciary and other legal institutions. These include two key Constitutional Court decisions and an ongoing legislative reform effort.

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