Western Cape Judge President John Hlophe’s conduct will be examined by a tribunal of his peers today, 12 years after he was accused of trying to influence two Constitutional Court justices to rule in favour of Jacob Zuma in the 2008 arms deal saga. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane/African News Agency (ANA)
Western Cape Judge President John Hlophe’s conduct will be examined by a tribunal of his peers today, 12 years after he was accused of trying to influence two Constitutional Court justices to rule in favour of Jacob Zuma in the 2008 arms deal saga. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane/African News Agency (ANA)

Tribunal holds hearings to examine Western Cape Judge President John Hlophe's conduct

By Mwangi Githathu Time of article published Dec 7, 2020

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Cape Town - Western Cape Judge President John Hlophe’s conduct will be examined by a tribunal of his peers today, 12 years after he was accused of trying to influence two Constitutional Court justices to rule in favour of former president Jacob Zuma in the 2008 arms deal saga.

The Hlophe tribunal, whose process has been dogged by a series of court cases over the past 12 years, harks back to 2008 when there was a case brought before the Constitutional Court involving Zuma, who was not yet president.

This was a corruption case concerning Zuma and the arms company Thint, and their role in the multibillion rand arms deal. It is alleged that Judge President Hlophe approached Constitutional Court justices Bess Nkabinde and Chris Jafta and attempted to influence their decision in favour of Zuma. The complaint regarding this was made to the Judicial Service Commission.

Judicial Conduct Tribunal secretariat spokesperson Sello Chiloane said: “The tribunal, which is led by a retired judge of the Gauteng Division of the High Court, Judge Joop Labuschagne, as the tribunal president, accompanied by a judge of the Supreme Court of Appeal, Tati Makgoka, and a practising attorney Nishani Pather, is set to begin hearings in Johannesburg on Monday (this) morning.”

Judge Hlophe’s lawyer Barnabas Xulu would not comment except to confirm: “The hearings, which are scheduled from (this) Monday to December 11, will be held at the Premier Hotel at OR Tambo International Airport.”

A researcher at the judicial monitoring group, Judges Matter, Mbekezeli Benjamin, said: “The tribunal process is a fact-finding process that is meant to produce a report that the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) will use to determine whether the judge is guilty of gross misconduct.

“If any of the parties believe that something went wrong in the process, they may file a more narrow procedural review instead of a more substantive appeal. This review will be taken to court.

“There are two main reasons why the process has taken so long: first, the rules of the judicial conduct process were not clear and had to be clarified. Second, various roleplayers such as the two main witnesses Judge Bess Nkabinde and Judge Chris Jafta, challenged the constitutionality of the new rules.

“Those cases were only resolved in 2018. Since then, issues about Judge Hlophe’s legal representatives have also caused delays. All these issues taken together mean that the JSC must reform the process to ensure that there are less loopholes to cause obstruction and delay in dealing with complaints against judges.

“The Concourt justices will each be given an opportunity to present their evidence by an independent prosecutor. Judge Hlophe will also have an opportunity to cross-examine the justices in order to test that evidence. This will all happen before an independent panel of two judges and an attorney. The aim of the tribunal is to get to the truth, and follows a more active, inquisitorial process in doing so.”

Advocacy group Freedom Under Law spokesperson Nicole Fritz said: “It is important that the disciplinary proceedings relating to the complaint made by all the then justices of the Constitutional Court are now brought to fruition. It is difficult to imagine a more serious accusation against a judge.”

“That it has taken so long to resolve this matter has impaired public confidence in the integrity of the judiciary and those bodies charged with its oversight,” said Fritz.

Meanwhile, the secretariat of the Judicial Conduct Committee said that during the week of December 14 to 18, the committee would consider the appeal by Judge Hlophe against the decisions of the chief justice in the complaints lodged by Deputy Judge President Patricia Goliath against Judge Hlophe, as well as that of Judge Hlophe against Goliath.

This appeal is scheduled for the Constitutional Court, commencing at 10am on December 14.

Cape Argus

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