Befriending the bogeyman: Direct horizontal application in AB v Pridwin

Author Meghan Finn

ISSN: 1996-2177
Affiliations: Lecturer in Public Law, University of Johannesburg
Source: South African Law Journal, Volume 137 Issue 4, p. 591-607


In AB v Pridwin Preparatory School 2020 (5) SA 327 (CC), the Constitutional  Court held (in four judgments) that independent schools are subject to constitutional  scrutiny and bear duties to the learners enrolled in them. For this reason, the court  declared invalid a school’s decision to terminate a contract without affording any  opportunity to make representations. By rejecting the idea that the independent  schooling sector is insulated from constitutional duties, the Constitutional Court’s  judgment achieves a vital outcome. However, while the court’s outcome is welcome,  its reasoning rests on shaky foundations. The court’s majority, which favoured direct  horizontal application, inadvertently perpetuates the idea that there are parallel  systems of law. Further, the court has a great appetite for making sweeping legal  pronouncements, and then purportedly limiting their precedential effects by claiming  that judgments turn on context-specific inquiries. This cuts against the court’s stated  commitment that horizontal application must progressively transform the law.