Pretoria - In a surprise move, Gauteng Judge President Dunstan Mlambo was asked about unsubstantiated rumours of sexual harassment involving him, during the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) hearing yesterday.
He also defended his track record and denied suggestions that he had a “judicial hit squad” at the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria – including a junior judge – which he used to rig the outcomes of cases through the use of full Bench panels.
The Gauteng High Court Judge President was interviewed for the position of Chief Justice by the JSC yesterday.
Judge Mlambo, the third candidate to be interviewed this week, started his interview by outlining his vision if he was chosen to lead the country’s judiciary.
But things quickly became heated and the gloves came off, and by question time, Judge Mlambo was asked about rumours that he had sexually harassed a woman who applied for an acting judge position.
Advocate Dali Mpofu raised the concerns around the “whispering” of sexual allegations.
Asked whether he knew anything about the allegation and from where it had emerged, Judge Mlambo said he was shocked when he heard about it.
“There is no substance to that. It is a rumour. It is an insidious rumour. I was waiting for someone to come forward and say I was sexually harassed by Judge President Mlambo,” Judge Mlambo said.
“I know as a I sit here, I never sexually harassed anyone.”
As this uncomfortable topic unfolded, Mlambo confirmed that he was not given any warning that he would be asked about this.
While Judge Mlambo said he had no details regarding the allegation, EFF leader Julius Malema said these rumours were usually from female judges who aspired to become judges.
Judge Mlambo said the purpose of this allegation was “clearly to poison my candidature (as chief justice)”. He said the rumour emerged “during the whole chief justice process”.
A retired judge from the Western Cape phoned him and said she had heard “something disturbing”.
He was told there was a rumour that he had sexually harassed someone, but the retired judge who phoned him would not give him a name or details.
“I did not take it further because rumours are difficult to pin. I feel pained about this rumour and the fact that it came out during my interview,” Judge Mlambo said.
Mpofu said such serious allegations should be dealt with during the interview as it would be a massive embarrassment for the JSC if these allegations were found to be true, if he were appointed to head the judiciary.
Mpofu also reminded Judge Mlambo that should the allegations be true, he could face impeachment.
Judge Mlambo said he wished his accuser would come forward, so that he could deal with the matter.
Chairperson of the commission, Acting Deputy President of the Supreme Court of Appeal Xola Petse, late yesterday ruled that questions and answers to Judge Mlambo about the sexual harassment rumours must be expunged from the record when he is considered for the Chief Justice appointment.
Judge Petse said fairness dictated that those rumours must be disregarded as there was no formal complaint and Judge Mlambo was not warned about the questions beforehand.
In his vision statement earlier, Judge Mlambo said that if he was appointed chief justice, he would seek to enforce oversight and accountability of the judiciary.
He would address its operations to improve efficiency and initiate discussions with the executive for the judiciary to become totally independent from the government.
He told the commission that one of his main aims was to modernise the courts around the country by embracing technology to improve court operations and the judiciary.
The Gauteng division – the Johannesburg and Pretoria High Courts, which fall under him – has successfully embarked on the Caselines System, an online method of filing court documents.
This is a pilot project which started in the Gauteng division and was earmarked to be rolled out to the other divisions.
Judge Mlambo said he also believed in visible leadership to instil confidence in those he led.
“A leader leads by example. If I am appointed I will also expand my efforts to see that we continue to facilitate the independence of the judiciary. My vision is to see an efficient and effective judiciary that is able to live up to its role in the Constitution.”
Judge Mlambo expressed his concern about a loss of confidence in the judiciary and the rule of law. He said he found that the judiciary operated in a “somehow toxic environment” as a result of a polarised and political space and that it was attacked on several fronts.
Judge Mlambo said while there had been “unfounded claims” of corruption against judges, it was more worrying that there was growing corruption regarding court operations.
During question time, Judge Mlambo was also grilled about judgments he was claimed to have made “in favour of the present administration” and “against the previous administration”.