Slap on wrist for three retired Pretoria judges over late rulings
Pretoria - Three now retired judges of the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, have been found guilty of misconduct for delivering a series of judgments between them after more than a year the actual hearings took place.
The Judicial Service Commission, in a majority judgment, decided to give judges Perdi Preller, Moses Mavundla and Ntsikelelo Poswa a slap on the wrist as a sanction.
The three must apologise to then Judge President Bernard Ngoepe, as well as to the litigants involved. They were also reprimanded by the commission.
This, while in the minority judgment, some members of the commission felt the three judges should have been found guilty of gross misconduct.
In this minority judgment, members of the commission’s panel said in their opinion, each judge should have been fined R500 000, payable over six months.
The commission’s conduct tribunal investigated the complaints after they were lodged some years ago by now also retired Judge President Ngoepe, while he still headed this division of the high court.
In the majority ruling, the panel felt that an apology and a reprimand would “amend the wrongs done by the respondent justices to the parties; and will vindicate the principle underpinning the finding of guilt.”
The panel said while an apology satisfied assuaged feelings of the litigants and went some way in restoring the damage to the respect for the judiciary, a reprimand stood as an official rebuke for the conduct of the justices.
They added that it was fundamental to the country’s democratic project that judges must judge cases brought before them. “The public is entitled to an effective judicial system that is effective and efficient in resolving disputes”, they stated.
But the majority was not convinced that the judges also had to be fined.
They said the judges were elderly and retired, and in any event, the outstanding judgments were eventually delivered.
While the minority members pointed out that drink and drive judge Nkola Motata had to pay a hefty fine for his gross misconduct, these judges should have also felt it in their purses. The majority said that was an entirely different matter and it would be unfair to paint them with the same brush.
“It weighs heavily on us that at least two of the respondent justices are African men who fall into the category of previously disadvantaged,” the majority judgment also said.
It was, on the other hand, said in the minority ruling that no one was forced to be a judge. “When you voluntarily accept an appointment and the attendant benefits, you do so knowing that it comes with responsibilities to the public.
“Every practitioner and member of the public knows that cases must be finalised speedily and judgments delivered without unreasonable delay. It is not something to be taught – it is that basic.”
The judgment continued: “It also has got nothing to do with previous advantage or disadvantage. Here, the seniority of these judges before appointment militates against any reliance on previous disadvantage or being the first generation of previously disadvantaged.
“A reprimand and an apology for the dereliction of core responsibility we are dealing with here does in our view trivialise the misconduct of which these judges have made themselves guilty…”
The minority members said the judges had already apologised. They are now going to be asked to repeat what they have done. “The bare minimum that any highly-placed public office-bearer who truly respects the consumers of their services is expected to do without even minimal encouragement.”