Johannesburg - A Johannesburg lawyer says the South African judiciary is corrupt, with some judges collaborating with each other to rig court outcomes, abuse cost orders for political purposes, tamper with evidence and cause files to disappear.
Raymond Edward Chalom, who has been in the legal profession for almost 50 years, says judges are appointed on the basis of friendship, trade-offs between lobby groups in the sector and affiliation to legal bodies rather than history, legal minds and experience.
Speaking to Sunday Independent on Friday, seven years after he wrote a letter to the UN Security Council Division complaining about “corruption in the South African Judiciary and Judicial Service Commission (JSC)”, the lawyer has also accused judges of abusing cost orders for political purposes, especially against public protector advocate Busisiwe Mkhwebane.
Since last month, Mkhwebane has lost at least three cases in the Constitutional Court and North Gauteng High Court and against President Cyril Ramaphosa, Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan and Absa, with personal cost orders imposed against her.
In all the cases, the judges used strong, personal language against her, causing public outcry and scathing criticism from the EFF.
“Cost orders are being abused. I’m of the view they are being abused for political purposes. Thuli Madonsela was on the right side, so she became Queen. Mkhwebane is more perceptive about a deeper problem in society and she is being punished for it. That problem relates to access to justice, it relates to access by ordinary people to courts. That is necessary because if ordinary people don’t have access to courts, you get violence,” said Chalom at his home in Johannesburg.
“They are destroying the office of the public protector. She might have made mistakes, all of us make mistakes. She is subject to review, but you don’t have to make her pay costs. How does she conduct her business?”
This came as the ANC Women’s League told the party’s Top Six officials, who include Ramaphosa and secretary-general Ace Magashule, that a certain minister, whose name is known to Sunday Independent, had boasted to them that he controlled the judges.
“That took place in a meeting between the ANCWL and the Top Six on Monday last week. [ANCWL secretary general] Meokgo [Matuba] told the Top Six. They were all stunned and requested a 10-minute adjournment before responding,” said a source familiar with the discussions. Matuba this week confirmed raising the matter but declined to comment further.
In his letter to the UN, Chalom accused some judges in the Durban and South Gauteng High Court of breaching Section 8 of the Constitution, which governs corrupt activities by judicial officers. He also accused the JSC, a body which appoints judges and hears misconduct cases against them, of victimising him and blocking his application to become a High Court judge for speaking out against judicial corruption.
According to Section 8 “any judicial officer who, directly or indirectly, accepts or agrees or offers to accept any gratification from any other person, whether for the benefit of himself or herself or for the benefit of other person, in order to act, personally or by influencing another person so to act in a matter that amounts to the illegal, dishonest, authorised, biased, misuse or selling of information” is guilty of judicial corruption.
In his letter to the UN, Chalom gave as an example a case he had litigated which was heard in the Durban and South Gauteng High Courts between 2009 and 2015. He said he had applied for the second time for the position of judge in 2012, but the JSC rejected him. When he demanded the reasons, the body “apparently decided to arrange for fraudulent litigation to be instituted against me to give me reasons why I could not be considered to be a judge”.
Chalom says that instead of protecting him, the Law Society of South Africa, now known as the Legal Practice Council, has victimised him for opposing judicial corruption by orchestrating a fictitious misconduct complaint against him.
“I’m not aware of any clients complaining about me. The Law Society finds odd and smart people on the pavement and says, ‘Please come and complain about Chalom.’ Apart from that, I have never heard about half of them.”
He also accused the body of removing him from a list of practising attorneys, claiming he had retired, which he denies.
Legal Practice Council communications manager Sthembiso Mnisi said Chalom had not been struck off the roll.
“The Legal Practice Council was going to commence disciplinary proceedings against him for not submitting his trust audit reports. He then brought an application against us to stop the disciplinary proceedings,” he said.
JSC spokesperson CP Fourie denied the allegations of corruption within the organisation, saying he was not aware of such a thing.
He also defended the appointment of judges.
“Recommendations on the appointment of judges are made on merit and taking into account the constitutional imperatives that the JSC must look at, and if there are trade-offs and deals, I am totally unaware of it. If I am unaware of it, I am satisfied that there is nothing of that happening,” he said.
Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng’s spokesperson Nathi Mncube said Chalom’s claims were not new, adding he should open criminal cases against any of the judges he accuses of corruption.
“I am saying that I seem to recall Mr Chalom in 2015. I informed him that he may approach any police station of his choice to lay a criminal charge of corruption against any judge or judges. I personally read some of the documents that he presented to me and I couldn’t establish any evidence of corruption against KwaZulu-Natal judges, or any judge for that matter,” Mncube said yesterday.