On August 22, the court heard argument in an application by Urmilla Mansingh for leave to appeal against a decision by the Supreme Court of Appeal.
Mansingh is seeking an order that the president’s power to confer honours does not include the power to confer silk on practising advocates.
The General Council of the Bar (GCB) and the Johannesburg Society of Advocates (JSA) oppose the application.
The status of senior counsel is conferred on an advocate by the president, who issues letters patent to the recipient, acting on the recommendation of the justice minister.
In the High Court in Pretoria, Mansingh challenged the institution of silk on the basis that the Constitution does not authorise the president to confer silk.
The court upheld her claim and declared that section 84(2)(k) of the Constitution did not confer a power on the president to confer silk.
On appeal, the SCA overturned the decision, finding the section in question did allow the president to confer, as an honour, the status of senior counsel on practising advocates.
In the Constitutional Court, Mansingh argued that the SCA lost sight of the fact that the silk status was a certification of professional quality awarded by way of letters patent, not an honour.
The GCB and JSA submitted that the SCA was correct, and requested that the application be dismissed.