/ 9 October 2007

Cape advocates say Hlophe must quit

Nine senior advocates from the Cape Bar, some of them former acting judges, have publicly called on Cape Judge President John 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 Judicial Services Commission (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 chairperson of the national body of advocates, the General Council of the Bar.

Their comments follow the JSC’s decision last week not to continue its inquiry into Hlophe’s receipt of money from the Oasis Management Group, despite finding that his explanation was unsatisfactory.

This was despite the JSC’s 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”.

The nine advocates said that for nearly two years, they had viewed with ”deep concern” the lodging with the JSC of a series of complaints against Hlophe.

Quoting former Constitutional Court judge Johann Kriegler, who wrote in a Sunday newspaper that Hlophe was guilty of grossly improper conduct and was not fit to be a judge, the nine said they supported Kriegler’s analysis and conclusions.

”We do so with heavy hearts,” they said.

”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.”

‘Slap on the wrist’

The Democratic Alliance said last week that the lack of legislation regulating the conduct of judges meant that Hlophe had got away with a ”slap on the wrist”.

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 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. – Sapa