By Ella Smook

The Judicial Service Commission (JSC) will have one less hot potato on its plate after Judge Chris Jafta, one of the judges involved in the Cape Judge President John Hlophe controversy, withdrew his application for a position with the Constitutional Court.

Starting on Monday, the commission will interview five shortlisted candidates to fill the vacancy to be left by Judge Tholakele Madala, who is set to retire later this year.

Judge Jafta, who had also been shortlisted for the position, was an acting judge at the Constitutional Court when he was allegedly approached by Judge Hlophe before a judgment in the corruption case of ANC president Jacob Zuma.

A closed session of the commission would have considered on Monday whether Judge Jafta could, during his interview, be questioned on what happened between him and Judge Hlophe in regard of the Zuma case.

The Judge Hlophe matter is still pending before the commission.

Judge Jafta was one of the judges, along with Judge Bess Nkabinde, who had allegedly been lobbied by Judge Hlophe to deliver a pro-Zuma ruling.

While informing their Constitutional Court colleagues of Judge Hlophe's alleged actions, Judges Jafta and Nkabinde nevertheless made it clear that they had not intended to lodge a complaint against Judge Hlophe. However, they later supported the complaint lodged with the commission.

In the recent High Court ruling which found that the Constitutional Court judges had violated Judge Hlophe's rights in their handling of the complaint, the court suggested that Judges Nkabinde and Jafta had possibly been strong-armed into changing their stance.

The reason for Judge Jafta's withdrawal is unclear.

JSC spokesperson Marumo Moerane could not confirm that it was related to his role in the Judge Hlophe matter.

Moerane, who was reported as saying earlier that commissioners could be instructed to refrain from asking Judge Jafta questions about the issue because it was still pending before the commission, said he was "not at liberty to disclose" the reason for the withdrawal.

The first interviewee on Monday was now expected to be Johannesburg High Court Judge Nigel Willis.

Land claims court and Cape High Court Judge Shenaz Meer, Supreme Court of Appeal Judge Edwin Cameron and Judge Frank Kroon of the Grahamstown High Court were also to be interviewed on Monday.

Judge President of the Northern Cape Division and acting appeal court judge, Frans Kgomo, was expected to be interviewed on Tuesday for a Constitutional Court position and a permanent position with the Supreme Court of Appeal.

Moerane said the commission would consider seven complaints during the closed morning meeting, including the Judge Hlophe matter.