Western Cape High Court judge’s fate rests with President Ramaphosa
Cape Town - The historic decision about whether to suspend a judge of the Western Cape High Court division has been placed firmly with President Cyril Ramaphosa by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC).
In a move hailed a “constitutional first since democracy”, the JSC has recommended to Ramaphosa that he suspend Judge Mushtak Parker while he faces two separate impeachment complaints.
JSC spokesperson CP Fourie said: “With regard to Judge Parker, the JSC will inform the president that it has requested the chief justice to appoint a tribunal. Furthermore, the JSC will advise the president that it would be desirable to suspend Judge Parker pending the finalisation of the complaints.”
One of the complaints against Parker involves those lodged in March by 10 fellow judges of the provincial division of the high court, who wrote to Judge President John Hlophe and Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng about an incident alleged to have taken place in chambers in February last year between Parker and Hlophe.
The other complaint is from the Cape Bar Council and relates to alleged dishonesty by Parker.
Brenton Joseph, chairperson of the Council, said: “As much as I don’t like to use the old cliché, the Bar Council is a complainant in the matter of Judge Parker and so to comment would be sub judice.
“We’ve been engaging with the JSC and respect the process, so for now we’ll reserve the right to comment.”
In the council’s complaint, it charged that when Parker applied to be a judge, he had given dishonest answers to a JSC questionnaire which aspirant judges complete before their interview.
Freedom Under Law chairperson Johann Kriegler said: “By acting firmly, fairly and speedily in cases of alleged gross misconduct by judges, the JSC does what the constitution demands: ensure the integrity of the judiciary. This enhances confidence in our judiciary and at the same time increases confidence in the JSC itself.
“This is in sharp contrast to what has happened in the case of Judge John Hlophe, who has been allowed to continue as Judge President of the Western Cape High Court for over 12 years with a most serious charge hanging over his head,” added Kriegler, who is a retired justice of the Constitutional Court.
“We accordingly look forward to a speedy and appropriate end to the proceedings against Judge Hlophe.”
Attorney and co-ordinator of the Judges Matter campaign Alison Tilley said: “As far as I know this is a constitutional first since 1994.”
“Obviously there are other complaints against other judges which are outstanding, but this move by the judicial conduct committee of the JSC to decide on an inquiry and recommend the president suspending of the judge concerned is a good step forward,” said Tilley.
“On the issue of credibility, I think the failure of the JSC and its subcommittees to actually deal with disciplinary matters has been almost as damaging as the allegations against the judges themselves.”
The judges matter campaign is a project of the Democratic Governance and Rights Unit at the faculty of law at UCT.