Call for better complaint mechanism for judges

The Ministry of Justice needs to speed up the formation of an appropriate complaints mechanism dealing with judges, the National Association of Democratic Lawyers (Nadel) said on Tuesday.

This follows the controversy surrounding Cape Judge President John Hlophe.

The complaints mechanism should cover procedure to be followed and appropriate sanction in case of adverse findings.

“Inasmuch as this matter leads to emotions, it is actually the time for reflection and to drawing of serious lessons from it. We can hardly afford the creation of an environment that discredits the judiciary, a fundamental pillar of our Constitution and democracy,” said Nadel general secretary Xolani Boqwana in a statement.

He said the commentary around the matter had put tremendous stress on the judiciary and the organised legal profession.

It had undermined democratic and constitutional institutions, in particular the Judicial Services Commission (JSC), it called into question the integrity and credibility of the chief justice, who presides over the JSC, and polarised the judiciary and the legal profession along racial lines.

It had undermined transformation of these institutions, which depend on unity for progress.

“The actions of Judge President Hlophe, as pronounced by the [the] JSC, proves that the judges are fallible and in the absence of an appropriate complaint mechanism, dealing with judges speedily and appropriately, the JSC will always be put in an invidious position, as in this case.”

Nadel said it was inappropriate for judges and members of the legal profession to act or comment in a manner that undermined the judicial process.

The JSC’s pronouncement should be respected and it is the responsibility of lawyers and judges to ensure that the rule of law is respected.

“These people cannot in the forum of the media tear down the integrity of the institutions bestowed with the responsibility of protecting and enhancing the rule of law.”

On October 4 the JSC found that there was not enough evidence to proceed with a public inquiry relating to payments Hlophe received from a company, Oasis, and that impeachment proceedings would not be brought against him.

However, the commission found that it was inappropriate for Hlophe to have given permission to Oasis to sue fellow Cape Judge Siraj Desai without disclosing his relationship with the company making the application.

The commission has been investigating complaints laid by Cape Town Advocate Peter Hazell against Hlophe after it emerged that the Cape judge president had been on a monthly retainer at Oasis Group Holdings and that he had, between 2002 and 2005, received R500 000 in fees from the company.

The finding was described by some political parties as a “slap on the wrist” and retired Judge Johan Kriegler wrote in a newspaper that Hlophe was not fit to be a judge.

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

The move by Kriegler and the advocates drew adverse comment from the Black Lawyers’ Association.—Sapa