Criminal Law in South Africa

August 29th, 2016

Book - Criminal Law in South Africa

By Gerhard Kemp (ed)

Cape Town: Oxford University Press

(2015) 2nd edition

Price: R 509,95 (incl VAT)

698 pages (soft cover)

This book by Gerhard Kemp, as editor, is core course material for any student, but by no means is this book a mere academic treatise on criminal law and may be regarded as a definitive work on the subject. It is a book that is aimed at both the law student, as well as the practitioner and both can equally benefit from it. It is a book that sets out the most important provisions of all related legislation and comments on the important sections thereof. Each section deals with applicable case law to substantiate the substantive law. It is then followed by concise notes on the salient features of the section. These notes are largely based on case law, which reveals how each section has been interpreted and applied in practice. Sometimes background information is provided and fundamental principles enunciated. The information is up-to-date and the format eminently helpful. The book provides an in-depth debate and analysis of contentious issues, as well as recent legal developments on the topic at hand.

The notes which accompany each section are sufficiently detailed. They deal with more than the bare essentials. They do not engage in profound academic discussion. Anyone who wants to go into an in-depth discussion of each provision can obviously refer to the cases which are cited. Not all the cases in criminal law are referred to but only those which are important for the understanding of each section are briefly discussed. The information is presented in a well-structured and user-friendly manner and is easily readable.

The general principles of criminal law, the elements of specific common law crimes and statutory offences are all covered in the text. The influence of the Bill of Rights read with comparative perspectives and international law on each subject, supports the legal theory referred to.

Reading any act is on its own rather dry and uninteresting. These notes make it more digestible for the reader. They are written in clear and lucid language and all essential material is canvassed. The work is comprehensive and the practical explanation straight forward.

Although this book is of immense value for the student, it is equally useful to a practitioner who needs a quick reference to a particular provision or who needs some guidance on a moot point of criminal law. The usefulness of the book is enhanced by the word index at the end. Not to repeat myself, sufficient to say that this book succinctly explains criminal law principles with excellent case illustrations, to balance out otherwise rigorous theory. One of the chapters (ch 2) even provides for a broad outline of the South African criminal procedure system.

Criminal law being a practical subject has to be taught in a practical way without ignoring the principles on which it is based. It is often illuminating to know why a particular provision has been made. Any book that deals with principles of substantive law has to captivate the imagination of the reader and draw his attention to the value of this subject. It is guaranteed that this book will achieve this objective and will also be a useful guide to practitioners. It will definitely be a worthy addition to the literature on this subject.

I was extremely impressed by the book’s introduction to several new offences, such as the criminal provisions of the Companies Act 71 of 2008, as well as crimes such as terrorism, torture and human trafficking which are all treaty-based and a world-wide phenomena.

This textbook is available at most academic bookshops through-out South Africa and also directly from Oxford University Press at

Dr Llewelyn Gray Curlewis is an attorney at Pieterse & Curlewis Inc in Pretoria.

This article was first published in De Rebus in 2016 (Sept) DR 21.