/ 9 October 2007

Black lawyers’ body backs JSC on Hlophe

The lawful decision by the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) not to continue its inquiry into Cape Judge President John Hlophe has upset some people, the Black Lawyers’ Association (BLA) said on Tuesday.

”It’s an outcome they don’t like,” BLA president Henry Msimang said.

Asked for comment on the furore that has erupted among members of the judiciary following the decision, he said retired Judge Johan Kriegler had been ”heavy-handed”.

A former constitutional and appeals courts judge, Kriegler wrote in a Sunday newspaper that Hlophe was guilty of grossly improper conduct and not fit to be a judge.

The JSC last week decided not to continue its inquiry into Hlophe’s receipt of money from the Oasis Management Group, although it said his explanation of the matter was unsatisfactory.

Its decision not to continue came despite its finding that Hlophe’s failure to disclose his relationship with Oasis — at the time he gave it permission to sue fellow Cape Judge Siraj Desai — was ”inappropriate”.

Following Kriegler’s attack on Hlophe, nine senior advocates from the Cape Bar, some of them former acting judges, have also publicly called on Hlophe to quit.

”We believe that there cannot be public confidence in the continuation in office now of Judge Hlophe,” they said in a letter published in the Cape Times on Tuesday.

The nine, all senior counsel, also questioned the conduct of the JSC in its probe into Hlophe.

The advocates are Schalk Burger, Michael Fitzgerald, Jeremy Gauntlett, Peter Hodes, Rob Petersen, Les Rose-Innes, Nic Treurnicht, Henri Viljoen and Renata Williams.

Some of them have served as chairpersons of the national body of advocates, the General Council of the Bar.

”In all the circumstances, we believe the right thing for Judge Hlophe to do is to resign as judge president and as a judge.

”As regards the JSC, we find it puzzling that despite its (unanimous) characterisation of Judge Hlophe’s responses [on the Oasis issue] as ‘unsatisfactory’, it (by majority vote) decided to desist from requiring him to be examined in relation to these answers.

”Public confidence in the JSC as principled upholder of judicial independence and integrity may not have been served by these events,” the advocates said.

On Monday, the BLA issued a statement criticising Kriegler over his ”unsolicited attack” on Hlophe, and suggesting he be sanctioned for ”unprecedented and improper grandstanding”.

The matter concerning Hlophe has been lawfully handled by the JSC, and Kriegler has now placed himself in contempt of its lawfully constituted authority, the BLA said. — Sapa