Kate O'Regan obtained B.A. LL.B. degrees from the University of Cape Town, an LLM from the University of Sydney, and a Ph.D. from the University of London (the London School of Economics and Political Science). In the mid-1980s she practiced as a lawyer in Johannesburg in a variety of fields, but especially labour law and land law. She represented many of the emerging trade unions and their members, as well as communities threatened with eviction under apartheid land laws. In 1990, she joined the Faculty of Law at UCT where she taught a range of courses including race, gender and the law, labour law, civil procedure and evidence.
She served as a judge of the Constitutional Court from 1994 – 2009. Since her fifteen-year term of office ended in 2009, she has served as an ad hoc judge of the Supreme Court of Namibia (from 2010) and Chairperson of the Khayelitsha Commission of Inquiry into allegations of police inefficiency and a breakdown in trust between the police and the community of Khayelitsha (2012 – 2014).
She also served as the inaugural chair of the United Nations Internal Justice Council from 2008 – 2012, a body established to ensure independence, professionalism and accountability in the internal system of justice in the United Nations. Since 2011, she has served as President of the International Monetary Fund Administrative Tribunal (which determines disputes that arise between staff members of the Fund and the Fund), and since 2012, as a member of the World Bank Sanctions Board (which hears appeals concerning sanctions imposed in relation to corruption, fraud and collusion in procurement processes).
Professor O’Regan also serves as a member on the boards or advisory bodies of many NGOs working in the fields of democracy, the rule of law, human rights and equality, including Corruption Watch, the Equal Rights Trust, the Equal Education Law Centre and the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law. She has also been closely involved in the development of SAFLII, a free-access-to-law website that reports judgments, and now legislation, from southern Africa.