Following a practice begun by the Romans of classifying the law into different categories, South Africa’s substantive law is still broadly divided into two main branches namely, Private Law and Public Law. Mercantile Law comprises a group of subjects in the commercial sphere that represent a mixture of Public and Private Law principles. Fields of study such as Procedural Law, Legal History, Comparative Law and Legal Philosophy, underlie all areas of the law. The majority of South African law faculties have, at some stage, followed this classification, and academic departments have been established within the faculties and schools roughly in accordance with these areas of the law.
Despite this division into separate departments, it has long been recognised that the dividing lines between them are not watertight. More recently, the Constitution has also served as a catalyst for the interaction between areas of the law beyond the boundaries of traditional academic departments, bringing with it its own complexities. This discussion focuses on the overlap between Labour Law, Administrative Law and the Law of Contract.
Society generally, and the legal fraternity in particular, expects law faculties and schools to provide individuals with the appropriate level of knowledge and skill to operate effectively within an ever-changing legal environment. In this address the question is considered whether the teaching that takes place within the confines of the various academic departments places unwarranted constraints on the integrated education of our undergraduate law students. The underlying goals of what we seek to achieve with our teaching endeavours within the current structures are also traversed. Do we merely train students to achieve proficiency in a particular field of the law, or do we also seek to educate students within the context of broader values and policy considerations which underlie particular subjects? This address confirms that interdisciplinary teaching should be reinforced from within strong and dedicated academic departments with permeable borders. However, law departments within faculties and schools should not merely interact with each other, but also with departments, faculties and schools beyond institutional borders.