The impeachment process of Western Cape High Court Judge President John Hlophe is expected to be back on the parliamentary agenda after being in abeyance for two years.
The National Assembly programme committee on Thursday decided that the matter should be referred to the justice and correctional services portfolio committee.
This came days after Freedom Under Law (FUL) gave National Assembly Speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula until September 18 to table the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) report for consideration, and threatened to take legal action if she did not.
Briefing the committee, National Assembly Secretary Masibulele Xaso said there was no legal impediment in proceeding with the matter.
He said the committee should manage the matter within its powers.
“Rules allow for committees to determine their programme,” Xaso said. DA chief whip Siviwe Gwarube said she was in agreement about proceeding with the matter.
However, Gwarube’s question on what was outstanding since the matter was last considered two years ago went unanswered.
ACDP chief whip Steve Swart asked that portfolio committee chairperson Bulelani Magwanishe be consulted, “given the very heavy load that the justice portfolio committee is experiencing”.
House chairperson Cedric Frolick said he had had a discussion with Magwanishe before Xaso briefed the committee.
“We are fully aware of the workload in front of that committee. We will come with a report next week,”
Frolick said. He also said the matter had been appropriately placed before the justice and correctional services portfolio committee.
“It is not a full-blown process that starts afresh. We will work with legal services, and I am quite sure it won’t be a long, drawn-out process,” Frolic said.
FUL chief executive Judith February said the proceedings in relation to the complaint against Judge Hlophe spanned 15 years.
“The Constitutional Court in its 2016 judgment in this matter emphasised the importance of bringing this complaint to an end for the purposes of vindicating the rule of law, administration of justice and public confidence in the judiciary.
“Further delay is not only unconstitutional, but invidious to the interests of justice. In the circumstances, FUL requests that the Speaker call for the committee to table its report, and for the National Assembly to vote on the matter in accordance with section 177(1)(b) of the Constitution, without further delay,” February said.
Judge Hlophe’s legal representative Barnabas Xulu could not be reached for comment by deadline on Thursday.
The turn of events comes hot on the heels of reports that Judge Hlophe’s appeal against gross misconduct findings made against him had lapsed. It was reported that he was unable to afford the printing costs to produce a full record of the proceedings.
In August 2021, Mapisa-Nqakula received a letter from then JSC acting chairperson, Justice Sisi Khampepe, confirming the commission’s decision to uphold the guilty finding of the Judicial Conduct Tribunal (JCT).
Mapisa-Nqakula subsequently referred the JSC letter to the portfolio committee on justice and correctional services for consideration.
Judge Hlophe then lodged an application seeking to stop his suspension and parliamentary proceedings. He had also wanted to review and set aside the decision of the JSC on the grounds that the judicial body was not properly constituted when it took the decision.
At the time of Judge Hlophe’s litigation, the parliamentary legal services advised that, unlike the Section 194 Inquiry, the committee’s role was limited to considering and reporting to the House on the fairness of the process.
This was similar to the removal of magistrates, where there was no parliamentary inquiry.