Lourens (Laurie) Ackermann was born in Pretoria in 1934. He lives with his wife, Denise, in Cape Town; they have three children and five grandchildren.
Ackermann matriculated from Pretoria Boys' High School in 1950. After obtaining his BA cum laude from Stellenbosch University, he went to Oxford in 1954 as the Cape Rhodes Scholar. There he obtained a BA honours in jurisprudence. He returned to Stellenbosch to complete his LLB.
Ackermann practised as an advocate at the Pretoria Bar from 1958 to 1980, becoming senior counsel in 1975. During this time he served on the Pretoria Bar Council and on the General Council of the Bar of South Africa.
After a number of acting appointments from 1976, he was permanently appointed to the Transvaal Provincial Division of the Supreme Court in 1980. He served as such until 1987.
In September 1987 he resigned to inaugurate the newly established Harry Oppenheimer Chair in Human Rights Law at the University of Stellenbosch, the first of its kind in South Africa. He held this position until the end of 1992. In 1989, as part of a group of constitutional lawyers, he participated in discussions about a future South African constitution with the exiled ANC.
While at Stellenbosch University he was a visiting scholar at the Columbia University Law School in New York and at the Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law in Heidelberg. He also served as a judge on the Lesotho Court of Appeal and on the post-independence Namibian Supreme Court.
In January 1993 he accepted reappointment to the South African Supreme Court, this time the Cape of Good Hope Provincial Division. In April 1994 he chaired the Cape Electoral Appeal Tribunal.
In August 1994 he was appointed to the first Constitutional Court of South Africa.
He retired from the Court in January 2004.
During his time at the Supreme Court's Transvaal Provincial Division, he was the chairperson of the board of governors of Pretoria Boys' High School and was the national vice-president of the National Institute for the Prevention of Crime and the Rehabilitation of Offenders.
Ackermann has spoken at South African and foreign universities on constitutional law and was a research fellow at the Max Planck Institute in Heidelberg in 2000. His particular field of interest is fundamental rights under the Constitution - in particular, the role of dignity in equality jurisprudence.
From 1988 to 2003 he was the South African secretary of the Rhodes Trust. He was also, until his retirement, a trustee of the Emmanuel Bradlow Foundation, an educational trust.
While on the Constitutional Court he chaired its library committee and was intimately involved with developing the vision of the library as a world-class resource "in and for Africa".
In his retirement he hopes to continue with the development of the library and the establishment of an institute for advanced constitutional, public, human rights and international law.
He has been awarded an LLD(h.c.) by the University of Stellenbosch and is an honorary fellow of Worcester College, Oxford.