Prof Melanie Murcott

Position, academic & professional qualifications

Melanie Murcott is an Associate Professor in the Department of Public Law, Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria, where she teaches and researches in the fields of administrative law and environmental law. She holds an LLB cum laude from the University of Cape Town, an LLM cum laude (Masters in Administrative Law and Constitutional Law) from the University of Pretoria, and an LLD (Doctor of Laws in Constitutional Law) from North-West University. Melanie is admitted as an attorney of the High Court of South Africa, and as a solicitor of England and Wales (non-practising roll). She is the author of Transformative Environmental Constitutionalism (Brill, 2022), a book that explains the intersections among social, environmental and climate (in)justice in a time of planetary emergency, and how the courts in South Africa can contribute to developing law that is more suited to responding to injustice in this context through the application of a legal theory of transformative environmental constitutionalism. The book represents a significant update and revision of Melanie’s doctoral research and her thesis titled “Towards a social justice-oriented environmental law jurisprudence in South Africa”.

Melanie’s teaching and research engage with the potential of environmental law and administrative law to contribute towards South Africa’s project of transformative constitutionalism. She is particularly concerned with how the law can advance social, environmental, climate, and inter-species justice as interconnected concerns. She adopts a socio-ecological systems perspective. This perspective views humans and the environments in which (and with whom) they exist as strongly coupled such that they comprise a complex, single system. 

Academic & professional experience

Prior to working in academia Melanie practised law for a number of years as a commercial litigator, including at Hogan Lovells, where she was a partner. During her time in commercial legal practise Melanie taught various subjects part-time as a sessional lecturer at the Wits School of Law, including Constitutional Law, Law of Succession and Foundations of South African Law. Her journey into academia full-time, in 2012, was motivated by a desire to contribute to academic excellence in teaching and research on social justice from a Global South perspective.

In 2014, Melanie developed the curricula of the LLB Environmental Law elective, an Environmental Law Short Course offered through Enterprises, and the LLM and MPhil Programmes in Environmental Law at UP. She continually revisits and updates these curricula, and innovates in her teaching, including through introducing learning opportunities outside of the classroom such as field trips, film screenings, and photograph exhibitions. Melanie adopts a collaborative approach in her teaching, and works with local and international scholars as well as local non-governmental organisations to enrich knowledge development and transfer.

Melanie’s work in administrative law has been referred to in various judgments, including in the Constitutional Court cases of Minister of Defence and Military Veterans v Motau and Others 2014 (5) SA 69 (CC) and Pretorius and Another v Transport Pension Fund and Another [2018] 7 BLLR 633 (CC).

Melanie is an active member of the IUCN Academy of Environmental Law (IUCNAEL), having participated in, and presented her research at the IUCNAEL annual colloquia (attended by leading environmental law scholars from around the globe) since 2014.  Melanie is a researcher of the African Observatory of Humanities for the Environment, an international collaboration of scholars that aims to identify, explore and demonstrate the contributions that humanistic and artistic disciplines make to solving global social and environmental challenges. Locally Melanie is the Vice Chairperson of the Environmental Law Association of South Africa (ELA). In this role she organises and hosts ELA events, including conferences and film screenings for students and the public. She also established an ELA student essay competition to encourage the emergence of new environmental law scholarship amongst LLB and postgraduate students at South African universities. Melanie is also a director of Animal Law Reform South Africa, a leading non-profit with the mission of achieving the highest level of protection of nonhuman animals and human animals utilising the legal system and related avenues.

In 2016 Melanie was a visiting scholar at Widener University Delaware Law as part of their esteemed Scholar-in-Residence programme on Global Environmental Constitutionalism. She was also awarded the prestigious scholarship of the Foundation Study Fund for South African Students (SSF), which is part of a greater organisation, the Zuid-Afrika Huis in Amsterdam, a private institution, that aims to maintain and promote the cultural and academic ties between the Netherlands and South Africa. The scholarship funded a four month visit to the Department of International and European Public Law at the University of Tilburg in the Netherlands.

In 2018, in collaboration with Dr Emily Barritt of the Dickson Poon School of Law, Kings College London, Melanie co-developed and co-taught a course on Climate Change, Justice and the Courts for the Law Schools Global League Summer School at the IE Law School, Segovia, Spain. Melanie has given lectures at various universities locally, and elsewhere in the world, including as part of the Visiting Guest Speaker Programme of Mercer University Law School in Georgia, United States of America. She has also taught at King’s College London, United Kingdom, International Institute of Social Studies, Erasmus University Rotterdam, Netherlands, Cambridge University, United Kingdom, and Widener University, USA.

Since 2021 Melanie has been co-leading a Global Network of Human Rights and the Environment project on Climate Litigation in the Global South with Dr Maria Antonia Tigre, Global Climate Litigation Fellow at the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, sponsored by the Sabin Center and the Trasnational Law of King’s College London. The project has brought together scholars from around the world with the aim of amplifying Global South perspectives on climate litigation and will culminate in a special issue (forthcoming in 2023), co-edited by Melanie and Dr Maria Antonia Tigre, in Journal of Human Rights Practice. Melanie is also co-editing a volume with Amy P. Wilson (Animal Law Reform South Africa) on Animal Law and Welfare in South Africa to be published by Routledge (forthcoming in 2023).

In 2022 Melanie engaged in a research project on enhancing climate law and governance in South Africa, funded by the National Research Foundation's Black Academic Advancement Programme, focused on climate change litigation in the Global South, as well as a just energy transition. As part of this project, Melanie presented guest lectures at Trier University, Germany, and Columbia University, USA. Melanie also returned to Widener University as a visiting scholar to engage in comparative research and teaching on climate change law and governance issues.

Melanie is a fellow of the Department of Higher Education and Training's Future Professors Programme, aimed at “developing qualities of academic excellence and leadership in university scholarship in order to contribute to the development of a future South African professoriate”.  

Teaching activities

Melanie teaches Administrative Law (PBL310), a Third-year LLB compulsory module, and Environmental Law (OMR410), a Final-year LLB elective module.  Melanie coordinates the LLM and MPhil programmes in Environmental Law, and teaches the core module, Environmental Law (ENL802). She also teaches in postgraduate programmes at the Faculty of Veterinary Sciences, for the Department of Geography and Environmental Science. She is the course leader and one of the presenters of the short course in Environmental Law administered by Enterprises. Melanie uses blended learning methods, and adopts an innovative, social justice-oriented, interdisciplinary approach in her teaching.

Representative publications


Contact details

Tel: +27 12 420-3860

Fax: +27 12 420-2991

E-mail: [email protected]

- Author Public Law

Copyright © University of Pretoria 2023. All rights reserved.

COVID-19 Corona Virus South African Resource Portal

To contact the University during the COVID-19 lockdown, please send an email to [email protected]

FAQ's Email Us Virtual Campus Share Cookie Preferences