Pretoria - More than 11 years after a drunk Judge Nkola Motata ploughed his gold Jaguar through the wall of a house in Johannesburg North, the now retired judge may be the first judge in our country to face impeachment.
The Judicial Conduct Tribunal, which investigated complaints whether he should be found guilty of gross misconduct, has found against Motata and it recommended to the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) that that the provisions of section 177(1)(a) of the Constitution be invoked, which means possible impeachment.
In a damning report, the tribunal found that Motata had acted without integrity when he made racist remarks while under the influence on the scene of the accident in January 2007.
“ This tribunal has come to the conclusion that Motata’s conduct at the scene of the accident and the remarks he made were racist and thus impinge on and are prejudicial to the impartiality and dignity of the courts,” KwaZulu Natal Judge President Achmat Jappie, who headed the tribunal, said in his report.
He further said that, similarly, the lack of integrity in the manner in which he allowed his defence to be conducted at his trial, in the view of the tribunal, is incompatible with or unbecoming of the holding of judicial office.
“ The question to be asked is if Motata is to retain the office of a judicial officer, would this negatively affect the public confidence in the justice system. If the answer is in the in the affirmative, as we suggest it is, then in the discharge of out mandate we recommend that the provisions of section 177(1)(a) of the Constitution be invoked.”
The tribunal said in its recommendations that the office of a judge is a very respectable office and that those who hold this office, must be respectable.
“ A judge’s conduct, in and out of court, should not dishonour that high office.Impeccable moral and ethic standing is a cruicial hallmark of such a public office. The criminal trial of Motata has placed his conduct squarely within the public domain. A question to be asked is what would be the attitude of an ordinary person, let alone a person of Afrikaner descent, if she/he is to be tried before Motata,” said Judge Jappie.
The tribunal sat in January and heard submissions following complaints levelled against him by AfriForum. The organisation claimed that Motata made racist remarks to Richard Baird, the owner of the house into whose wall he had crashed into in January 2007.
It was found that Motata was driving under the influence of alcohol at the time. He told Baird on the scene of the crash that “No boer is going to undermine me…. This used to be the white man’s land, but it is not anymore.”
He was earlier fined to R20 000 for driving under the influence.
Advocate GC Pretorius of the Johannesburg Bar complained that Motata had conducted a criminal trial in which he was involved in, in a manner which was inconsistent with the ethics of judicial office.
The wheels of justice was grinding especially slowly in the case of Motata, who had launched numerous constitutional challenges and other applications in a bid to avoid possible impeachment.
The JSC now had to consider there recommendations. If the JSC found that he was indeed guilty of gross misconduct, it had to submit its findings and reasons to the Speaker of the National Assembly.
A judge can only be impeached (removed from office) by the president following a two thirds majority vote by the National Assembly.
It is not clear how long this process could take, but if he is impeachment, Motata would lose his judges salary and benefits.
He will turned 71 in February and had been on pension since last year on full pay. The controversial judge had in fact not been back on the bench since the accident 11 years ago, as he had been on special leave, with full pay, since then.
It was estimated in 2016 that he had already cost the taxpayer about R16 million.