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Dr Jan van Zyl Smit


Dr Jan van Zyl Smit was appointed Director of the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law in May 2024, having served as Deputy Director since 2019.

A comparative constitutional lawyer by background, Jan's work focuses mainly on the judiciary and judicial reform. He has been instrumental in developing international standards on judicial appointments, playing a leading role in drafting the Cape Town Principles on judicial appointment commissions, and contributed to the development of the Commonwealth Secretariat Model Law on Judicial Service Commissions (2018) and the OSCE's Warsaw Recommendations on Judicial Independence and Accountability (2023). He is the author of The Appointment, Tenure and Removal of Judges under Commonwealth Principles (2015), which has been cited by courts and law reform bodies in more than a dozen jurisdictions, and co-edited Securing Judicial Independence: The Role of Commissions in Selecting Judges in the Commonwealth (2017).


Dr Jan van Zyl Smit

Director, Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law

+44 (0)20 7862 5167

Jan's practical experience in the field of judicial reform includes analysing national legislation for the OSCE's Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, undertaking country visits for the UNDP, and providing research advice to the Judicial Appointments Commission of England and Wales. He recently joined government-led discussions about reforming the judicial appointment system in Nigeria.

Jan has a long-term research interest in the intersection between judicial reform, transitional justice and anti-corruption mechanisms. He is specifically interested in the use of exceptional processes such as vetting, fresh appointment and truth commissions to assess whether serving judges are fit for office. Jan's practical experience includes supporting the Kenyan judicial vetting board as a consultant over a period of several years, and advising on similar issues in Armenia, Kosovo, Poland and Tunisia. His research on this topic has been funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).

Other work which Jan has led at the Bingham Centre includes a comparative study on administrative law guides for public servants and a project to support The Gambia's constitutional reform process (both funded by the UK Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office). He co-ordinated an AHRC rapid-response project on data-driven measures during Covid 19, and co-convened a Rule of Law symposium in Singapore, which led to a collection of essays, The Importance of the Rule of Law in Promoting Development.

A graduate in mathematics and law at the University of Cape Town, Jan worked as a law clerk (judicial assistant) at the Constitutional Court of South Africa. He went on to complete a BCL and DPhil at the University of Oxford, where he was a Rhodes Scholar. His thesis examined the impact of the Human Rights Act on statutory interpretation. Prior to joining the Bingham Centre in 2013, Jan taught public law and international law at Oxford Brookes University, and worked as a researcher supporting Kenya's constitutional review process.

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