/ 5 October 2007

Opposition voices concern over Hlophe matter

The lack of legislation regulating the conduct of judges has resulted in Cape Judge President John Hlophe getting away with a ”slap on the wrist”, the Democratic Alliance (DA) said on Friday.

DA spokesperson on justice Sheila Camerer said Hlophe’s case highlighted the need to expedite the passing of such legislation.

”This absence is a result of delays in the passing of the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) Amendment Bill — these amendments propose a code of conduct for judges, as well as rules governing the disclosure of assets and interests,” she said.

The justice portfolio committee, Camerer said, would hopefully schedule further meetings this year in an attempt to resolve outstanding issues, after which the Bill would go to the National Assembly for approval.

”Having been reprimanded by the JSC and facing further dressing down by three of the most senior judges, Hlophe’s case highlights the importance of expediting the proposed legislative changes — a code of conduct for judges is clearly needed,” she said.

The African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) criticised the JSC’s decision not to hold an inquiry on Hlophe, saying there was sufficient evidence to warrant an investigation.

”The judiciary must be beyond reproach and the failure to hold an inquiry into the allegations will result in a cloud of suspicion hanging over the judge president’s head,” party spokesperson Steve Swart said in a statement.

The fact that JSC members were divided over Hlophe’s matter, Swart said, was evidence that certain members were protecting the Cape judge president.

”The conclusion is inescapable that certain JSC members have tried to cover up this serious matter,” he said.

However, Swart welcomed the JSC’s recommendation that specific guidelines on judges undertaking extra-judiciary work should be prescribed by legislation.

”We believe that these provisions will go a long way to protect the propriety of judges, which, together with the provisions relating to the disciplining of judges, will go a long way to hold judges accountable, without infringing upon the independence of judiciary,” he said.

The Freedom Front Plus (FF+) said the fact that the JSC was divided on the question of whether there was sufficient evidence to investigate could be a reflection of political influence. — Sapa