Administrator Turned Academic Earns PhD in Law

Dr Juanita Easthorpe
Law academic, Dr Juanita Easthorpe celebrating her hard-earned PhD.

UKZN Law lecturer Dr Juanita Easthorpe has been awarded a Doctor of Philosophy in Law degree for her thesis titled: Religion and the Law: Exploring the Boundaries Between the Right to Equality Based on Sexual Orientation and Religious Freedom.

Easthorpe recalls the early days of her career at UKZN – the erstwhile University of Natal – in 1990 as an administrator in the Law Library on the Pietermaritzburg campus. ‘I was one of those who took the scenic route to academia,’ she quipped.

Her interest in academia was sparked when she was promoted from the Law Library to senior administrator in the Office of the Dean of Law. ‘While working in the Office of the Dean, I was inspired by the expertise and knowledge of academics within their different areas of Law. Many were successful and seasoned and seemed fluent within their areas of Law. That expertise and knowledge inspired me to register to do an LLB degree part-time.’

Easthorpe, who was supervised by UKZN legal experts Professors Ann Strode and Warren Freedman, says completing her LLB was challenging as she was undergoing a divorce and had to care for her two children. Fortunately, this did not deter her from her goal as she immediately embarked on a Master in Law degree journey which took her only nine months to complete! ‘Soon after graduating with my master’s degree, I fulfilled my dream of being part of the academic complement in the Law School as a junior lecturer.’

As an academic, she took heed of a call by the UKZN Senate for all academics to obtain a PhD as a minimum requirement for teaching at the University. Determined to learn as much as she could she welcomed mentorship from seasoned academics and the support from the University in the form of teaching relief, academic writing workshops and conferences.

Easthorpe’s research around religion and the Law was a complex area of Law to navigate, with the topic dealing with the controversial and current debate around the constitutionality and legal soundness of the religious injunction against same-sex marriage due to religious denominations’ biblical beliefs around homosexuality.

The study found that the religious injunction against same-sex marriage was unconstitutional and therefore legally unsound. The thesis also established that litigants should consider using the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act (PEPUDA) in addressing unfair religious discrimination. ‘The Equality Courts can be used in this instance as a tool to achieve impact litigation by initiating advocacy and lobbying. They can also deal with matters holistically by promoting equality and eradicating unfair discrimination. The remedies in terms of PEPUDA are not punitive but remedial, which will be more acceptable to Christian religious denominations. Corrective remedies will still respect the doctrinal beliefs and autonomy of the church since the aim is not to change doctrinal beliefs. It will also give Christian religious denominations an opportunity to revisit their policies and practices regarding their stance on the acceptance of diversity and inclusivity,’ according to the study.

Congratulating Easthorpe on her achievement Freedman said: ‘I would like to congratulate Dr Easthorpe on successfully completing her doctoral studies. I have no doubt that her ground-breaking findings will contribute to a more just and fair South Africa. As one of Dr Easthorpe’s examiners stated in her report, Dr Easthorpe’s thesis has “constructed a useful and relevant body of work that will guide the judiciary in remedying flagrant injustices that cannot be reconciled with South Africa’s transformative Constitution and everything it stands for”. I fully agree with this statement.’

Professionally, Easthorpe is an Advocate of the High Court of South Africa and her research interests are in the fields of Gender and the Law and Family Law. She has published extensively in these areas.

On her achievement she said: ‘I am so proud of my academic achievements, especially the completion of my PhD because it is the culmination of a dream that took many years to come to fruition!’

Words: Hazel Langa

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