IFIT / WELCOME TO The Initiative on Apex Court Appointments

The Initiative on Apex Court Appointments

The Initiative on Apex Court Appointments is a unique rule of law project that will fill the current gap in guiding principles – both globally and regionally – in the selection and appointment of constitutional and apex court judges.

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There is a multitude of useful regional and international principles and guidelines on judicial independence and the selection and appointment of judges. Yet, there are no global or regional principles tailored to the unique characteristics of constitutional and apex courts.

IFIT experts, in partnership with the Center for Constitutional Transitions (CT) and a High-Level Advisory Panel, are filling the gap through the Initiative on Apex Court Appointments. The first phase of the project involves multidisciplinary research, interviews and the development of an indicative set of global guidelines on the appointment of constitutional and apex court judges. The second step – which will partly overlap with the first – will produce a parallel set of principles tailored to the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region.


An apex court is the highest court on constitutional matters in a given country. It may be a supreme court, a constitutional court, or something else – depending on the legal system.

Across very diverse jurisdictions, constitutional and apex courts have a combination of distinguishing features that merit a tailored approach for judicial appointments. For example: 1) they constitute the highest court on all constitutional matters in a particular country, 2) they are multi-member courts that adjudicate in plenary or in panels, and 3) they deal regularly with politically charged cases that have foundational consequences for democracy, human rights and the rule of law in the country. A number of national jurisdictions reflect some of these features in their appointment criteria and procedures on apex court appointments.

The existing principles, although valuable, have two limitations: 1) they tend to focus overwhelmingly on rules of procedural fairness and questions of individual merit, largely or entirely omitting criteria of character; and 2) they are generic in application and thus do not take account of the special considerations that pertain to the appointment of judges to constitutional and apex courts.

The global gap this initiative seeks to fill was first identified through prior work conducted by IFIT and CT with expert input from a group of retired and active apex court judges from the SADC region, as well as several distinguished lawyers from IFIT’s brain trust in Zimbabwe. In choosing to fill the gap in principles for apex court appointments at both global and regional levels (with SADC as the initial regional case), the initiative seeks to ensure that the principles: 1) cater to the unique needs and dynamics of different regions; 2) facilitate a continuous ‘conversation’ between organisations, governments and experts working at international and regional levels; and 3) can be practically incorporated by states into their laws, constitutions and/or national processes.

IFIT experts, in partnership with CT, are facilitating the development of the principles with the support of a High-Level Advisory Panel composed of distinguished judges and jurists from a wide spectrum of legal systems. The Lowenstein Project at Yale Law School and the law firm King & Spalding LLP have been providing pro bono research support.

The work comprises in-depth research, expert interviews and high-level outreach and convenings, both globally and regionally. The final guidelines will be published in 2024.

To learn more or offer your support for the Initiative on Apex Court Appointments, please contact Alejandro Urrutia at [email protected].