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Dr Jan van Zyl Smit


Dr Jan van Zyl Smit is Acting Director of the Bingham Centre of the Rule of Law, supporting the Director and assisting with the co-ordination of the Centre's research and events programme.

Jan's research is mainly in the areas of constitutional and administrative law and much of it focuses on court systems and judiciary. He is the author of The Appointment, Tenure and Removal of Judges under Commonwealth Principle s (2015), a comparative study of the judicial frameworks of Commonwealth states, and co-edited Securing Judicial Independence: The Role of Commissions in Selecting Judges in the Commonwealth (2017). Jan's work on judicial councils and commissions helped shape the Cape Town Principles  on judicial appointments, and a Commonwealth Secretariat Model Law  on judicial service commissions.


Dr Jan van Zyl Smit

Acting Director, Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law

+44 (0)20 7862 5167

One of Jan's long-term research interests is in the use of exceptional measures such as vetting, reappointment and truth commissions to deal with situations of judicial crisis, including institutional corruption and the legacies of non-democratic rule. Jan leads the project Reassessment and Removal of Judges in Constitutional Transitions: Strengthening the Rule of Law ?, which was funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). His practical experience includes assisting the Kenyan vetting process (2012-2016), and advising on similar issues in Armenia, Kosovo, Poland and Tunisia. Jan has worked with organisations including UNDP, OSCE-ODIHR and the International Center for Transitional Justice on these issues.

Other projects Jan has led at the Bingham Centre include:

a COVID-19 response project on the Role of Good Governance and the Rule of Law in Building Public Trust in Data-Driven Responses to Public Health Emergencies ( funded by AHRC on behalf of UKRI)

a comparative study on administrative law guides for public servants,  including the UK's The Judge Over Your Shoulder, to support a similar initiative in Kenya (funded by UK FCO Magna Carta Fund)

a project to support The Gambia's constitutional reform process (funded by UK High Commission)

Jan completed his first degree in Law at the University of Cape Town and subsequently clerked for Deputy Chief Justice Pius Langa (as he then was) at the Constitutional Court of South Africa. He went on to complete a BCL and DPhil in Law at the University of Oxford, where he was a Rhodes Scholar. Jan's thesis, completed in 2009, focused on the UK Human Rights Act 1998 and its impact on statutory interpretation. Prior to joining the Bingham Centre in 2013, Jan lectured on UK constitutional law, administrative law and international human rights law, and worked as a researcher for transitional public bodies involved in Kenya's constitutional and judicial reforms.

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