Fort Hare produced its first LLB graduate at a very early stage, when it was still preparing students for degrees of the University of South Africa. That graduate was Z.K. Matthews (pictured left) who later became a Professor and also Acting Principal of the then University College of Fort Hare. Prior to 1961, certain law subjects were taught in the Faculty of Arts. The Faculty of Law was later established in 1961 and Prof D. Pont, LLB (SA) LLD (Utrecht), former Dean of the Faculty of Law at the University of Pretoria and first editor of the “Journal of Contemporary Roman Dutch Law” was appointed as the first Dean.
In addition to the BA Law that was offered in the Faculty of Arts, the LLB degree, Attorneys’ Admission Certificate and the Public Service Law Certificate were the qualifications offered at the time. Initially the Faculty consisted of Departments of Private Law, Public Law and Mercantile Law. Later, two other Departments were added, viz. the Department of Constitutional and Public International Law and the Department of African and Comparative Law. The UNESCO “Oliver Tambo Chair of Human Rights” was established in 1994.
The surrounding communities are served by the Law Clinic funded jointly by the Attorneys Fidelity Fund and the University of Fort Hare. In 1997 permission was obtained to rename the Law Faculty after the then national President, Nelson Rholihlahla Mandela, and the School of Law was formally established under that name in January 2002. Since 2006, the Faculty of Law has been gradually relocating its LLB programme offering and administration offices from Alice campus to the East London Campus in the process of implementing the University’s Institutional Operating Plan. In the result, only a few staff of the Faculty have been retained at the Alice campus to provide service courses in law to non-law major programmes in other Faculties. All full time students registered for the LLB qualification therefore study at the East London campus.