260514. Cape Town. Western Cape Premier Helen Zille walking next to Western Cape High Court deputy judge president Jeanette Traverso ahead of taking the Oath at the Western Cape Legislature. Picture Henk Kruger/Cape Argus


Cape Town - The first formal complaint against Western Cape High Court Deputy Judge President Jeanette Traverso over her handling of the Shrien Dewani trial will be lodged with the Judicial Services Commission next month.

On December 8, Traverso acquitted Dewani, who stood trial for the alleged murder of his wife Anni while on honeymoon in Cape Town in November 2010.

Traverso found that State prosecutors had failed to make a case against Dewani. His acquittal provoked strong and mixed reactions in newspapers, radio shows and on social media.

Some blamed the State for bungling the case and others believed the correct decision had been made. After the judgment, Dewani left South Africa for the UK.

On Saturday the little known Higher Education Transformation Network said it would lodge a complaint against Traverso for “judicial bias and other misconduct” with the JSC next month.

The non-profit network said Traverso’s dismissal of the case should be investigated for having “ingrained bias against the State”.

It charged that South Africa needed a “new cohort of independently minded judges”. The group’s website said it comprises graduates who are “committed to the process of transformation of education and training”. It has about 1 200 members.

Network executive director Reginald Legoabe said on Saturday it planned to lodge the complaint with the JSC, after an internal legal task team told their board that such a complaint would have merit.

Under the JSC Act, any South African may lodge a complaint about the conduct of a judge with the commission. The latter’s judicial conduct committee is charged with investigating the matter.

All complaints, however, have to pass a test to be taken forward. If the chairman of the conduct committee finds the allegation is “frivolous or lacking in substance”, hypothetical, or does not include specific claims about judicial negligence, it can be dismissed. The complainant has the right to appeal.

If the chairperson of the committee finds the complaint has merit, he or she can call a full meeting of the six-person committee. The committee must then consider whether to recommend to the JSC that the complaint be investigated by a tribunal.

The JSC Act provides five grounds for lodging a complaint against a judge. These include gross incompetence or misconduct, a breach of the Code of Judicial Conduct, accepting money, or “wilful or grossly negligent conduct… that is incompatible with or unbecoming the holding of judicial office”.

Weekend Argus