Several judges to face the music in 2024

Several of the country’s judges – who are suspended currently – face the red carpet themselves next year (2024). Picture: File

Several of the country’s judges – who are suspended currently – face the red carpet themselves next year (2024). Picture: File

Published Dec 18, 2023


Several of the country’s judges – who are suspended currently – face the red carpet themselves next year (2024), with some even facing the possibility of being removed from office following accusations and in some cases findings of gross misconduct for a range of reasons.

One of them is suspended Western Cape Judge President John Hlophe, whose woes are escalating after the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) this month decided that he should face a second judicial conduct tribunal.

This time in relation to his long standing feud with his deputy, Judge Patricia Goliath.

After several years, the JSC earlier found Hlophe guilty of gross misconduct when he tried to sway two Constitutional Court judges to rule in favour of then president Jacob Zuma.

In this regard the justice committee in the National Assembly is expected to rule early next year on whether he should be removed from office or not.

But he is expected to face more problems as the JSC in a statement issued on December 8, following complaints by Judge Goliath against Judge Hlophe, said these complaints must be investigated.

In September 2022, the Judicial Conduct Committee (JCC) made recommendations to the JSC that a complaint of assault and use of abusive language lodged by Judge Goliath against Judge Hlophe be referred to the Judicial Conduct Tribunal for investigation.

Her complaints included that he had undermined her as his deputy and swore at her.

The JSC meanwhile cleared Judge Goliath in a counter-complaint against her by Judge Hlophe. He accused her of, among others, racism involving use of the “K” word and the improper disclosure of information about a pending case.

The JSC, which the members designated by the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces, meanwhile accepted the recommendation of the JCC to refer the complaint by Judge Goliath against Judge Hlophe to a tribunal for investigation.

It requested Chief Justice Raymond Zondo to appoint the tribunal.

Regarding the complaint against Judge Goliath, the JSC found that there is no prima facie evidence that substantiates the allegation of racism or the use of the “K” word by her.

Meanwhile another suspended judge, Judge Nana Makhubele, will once again face the Judicial Conduct Tribunal in a misconduct complaint against her on January 10.

While she was due to place her defence before the tribunal, her camp asked for a postponement to sort out issues relating to legal fees.

Judge Makhubele, a former board chairperson of the Passenger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa), is facing a misconduct investigation which could lead to her impeachment.

The investigation arises from a complaint filed by civil society organisation #UniteBehind more than three years ago.

It claims that Judge Makhubele violated the separation of powers principle by serving both as a judge and chairperson of a state-owned company.

Counsel for #UniteBehind said her conduct rendered her unfit to hold office. Judge Makhubele has denied wrongdoing, saying she had already resigned as Prasa chairperson when she was sworn in as a judge at the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria.

Two more Gauteng judges will this year also face the music – this time for delivering judgments months after judgment was reserved – or for up to now not having delivered some of the judgments.

The Judicial Conduct Tribunal hearing into the conduct of Judge Nomonde Mngqibisa-Thusi was earlier this month postponed to January 29 to give her team a chance to obtain reports from two medical experts to be used in her defence.

The judge is not disputing the late judgments and it is expected that she will present evidence regarding her health in a bid to explain why she could not get to her judgments in time.

In her earlier representations before the JSC she said she was battling with health and personal issues.

President Cyril Ramaphosa earlier this year placed both Judges Tshifhiwa Maumela and Mngqibisa-Thusi on suspension to allow the tribunal to investigate suspected misconduct regarding alleged excessive delays by the judges in handing down a significant number of judgments.

In January this year, the JSC accepted a recommendation of the JCC that there were reasonable grounds to suspect that the judges were guilty of misconduct in delaying the judgments.

Judge Maumela was the presiding judge over the murder trial of Senzo Meyiwa. He is accused of failing to deliver a series of judgments within a reasonable period defined in the Judicial Norms and Standards, some going back as far as 2018.

Judge Mnqibisa-Thusi is also accused of failing to deliver a series of judgments within a reasonable time. Many of her judgments were delivered after 12 months of the cases being heard, which is in violation of the Judicial Norms and Standards, which require that civil judgments be delivered within three months of the hearing.

It is not yet known when Judge Maumela will appear before the tribunal.

Meanwhile, retired Judge Nkola Motata will also have to finally face the music – more than 17 years after he drove his car and crashed into a wall in Johannesburg as he was intoxicated.

The National Assembly is due to deal with him early in the new year, after he was given a chance to provide mitigating factors as to why he should not be impeached.

The National Assembly must vote for impeachment by a two-thirds majority.

Although Motata has not sat on the bench since 2008 and shortly afterwards retired, he still received his full judge’s payment. He meanwhile retired on full judges remuneration.

If he is impeached, it will be the end of the state coffers having to pay him his pension and other related benefits.

While the JSC took years to deal with Motata and earlier found that his actions did not constitute gross misconduct, the SCA said this falls to be rejected.

In a judgment delivered earlier this year, the SCA said for as long as Motata is entitled to be called “Judge Motata”, the judiciary continues to be stained in the eyes of the public.

It said that his conduct years ago, when he ploughed his gold Jaguar through the wall of a house in Johannesburg North, was of such gravity as to warrant a finding that he be removed from office.

“There is no alternative measure to removal that would be sufficient to restore public confidence in the judiciary,” said Judge Visvanathan Ponnan, who wrote the majority judgment.

He said Motata has since the moment he drove through the wall in January 2007 up to now fought tooth and nail to not be impeached and to lose his benefits as a judge. But it was now time to deal with the situation once and for all, the court said.

Pretoria News