Judge Essa Moosa was born on 8 February 1936 in District Six, Cape Town. He qualified as an Attorney-at Law and was admitted to practice by the High Court of the Supreme Court, Cape Town on 1 June 1962. He practised as an Attorney in Cape Town until December 1997 and in 1998 was appointed as a judge of the High Court of the Supreme Court in Cape Town, officially retiring on 8 February 2011. He has six siblings, is married and continues to live in Cape Town.
Specialising in human rights issues for almost 40 years, he challenged, in court violations of basic human rights such as detention without trial, freedom of expression, freedom of movement, security and emergency legislations and regulations. During this time he acted for a number of prominent non-governmental organisations, community based organisations, leading political and community activists. In 2012 the University of the Western Cape conferred an Honorary Doctorate in law on him in recognition of his contribution in the field of human rights.
He was a founding and executive member of the National Association of Democratic Lawyers and chaired its Human Rights Committee. He was a member of the Constitutional Committee of the African National Congress (ANC), which gave logistical support to the ANC negotiation team for the establishment of a democratic, non-racial and non-sexist South Africa. He also served as the Provincial Election Agent for the ANC in the region of the Western Cape for the first democratic elections in April 1994.
In addition he serves in a voluntary position as trustee of the University of the Western Cape, a position he has held for more than 20 years. He has also served as the Chairperson of the Council of the Peninsula Technicon and later as a member of the Council until the merger of the institute with the Cape Technicon. He was a founding member and trustee of the community based media initiaitves including; Bush Radio, Grassroots Publications, Saamstaan Newspaper (Southern Cape) and South Newspaper.