/ 3 June 2008

‘Can’t have JSC fiddling’ on Hlophe

The General Council of the Bar (GCB), representing most of the country’s advocates, on Tuesday added its voice to calls for Cape Judge President John Hlophe to step down.

”It is untenable that, pending the investigation of the complaint, the judge president stays on active duty,” GCB chairperson Jannie Eksteen said in a statement.

”The seriousness and source of the complaint, as well as its ramifications, demand that he goes on special leave.

”If he does not do so voluntarily, the minister of justice … and/or the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) must see how that can be facilitated as a matter of urgency.”

Last week Constitutional Court judges accused Hlophe of trying to improperly influence the court’s decision on the Scorpions’ search-and-seizure raids carried out on African National Congress president Jacob Zuma.

The complaint has been referred to the JSC, which is trying to arrange an urgent meeting to deal with it.

Eksteen said that the allegations struck at the heart of the legal profession and the judiciary.

The GCB welcomed indications that the JSC would deal with the complaint swiftly, and called on it to ensure the process was transparent.

Earlier, in a similarly worded statement, the Cape Bar Council called on Hlophe to step down until the complaint had been resolved.

It said that to safeguard public confidence in the judiciary, it had asked the JSC to ”facilitate judge Hlophe’s absence from office” pending the determination of the complaint”.

The Law Society of South Africa, representing attorneys, has urged the JSC to deal with the complaint swiftly.

Democratic Alliance (DA) representative on the JSC, Sheila Camerer said on Tuesday that it was essential that the JSC did not drag its feet in investigating the complaint.

”This time around the JSC must act expeditiously and decisively in the best interest of the judiciary, unlike on the previous occasion,” she said.

”We cannot afford to have the JSC fiddling while Rome burns.”

She said the DA would ask JSC chairperson Pius Langa to convene the full commission for a briefing on the complaint by all 11 Constitutional Court judges, before it was referred to the JSC’s disciplinary subcommittee.

The MPs who sit on the JSC are not part of the subcommittee, which is composed only of judges.

”The allegations of interference made by the Constitutional Court judges against Judge Hlophe are extremely grave and the step taken by the Constitutional Court unprecedented,” Camerer said.

”It would therefore be inappropriate for only the disciplinary subcommittee to take up the matter”

The whole commission should also consider whether to ask President Thabo Mbeki to suspend Hlophe pending the outcome of the inquiry.

The DA has already called on him to step down.

JSC spokesperson advocate Marumo Moerane said late on Tuesday afternoon that there was still no definite word on when or where the commission would meet to discuss the complaint.

JSC secretary Vuyelwa Masangwana said on Monday it had been hope to arrange it for Friday or Saturday, but some members had indicated they would not available.

BLA: No need for him to step down

Meanwhile, the Black Lawyers Association (BLA) said on Tuesday there was no need for Hlophe to step down ahead of an inquiry into his conduct.

”The BLA will not join the chorus of those who say the JP [Judge President] must step down pending the outcome of the JSC inquiry,” the organisation’s president, Andiswa Ndoni, said in a statement.

”This is because the JP is entitled to a fair process and to a presumption of innocence till his guilt or otherwise has been proved.”

”Our position on the issue is that we do not know the facts, and in any event we are aware the judges do discuss cases with other judges, even with other judges in other divisions.

”And therefore because there is no evidence as to what exactly happened, the profession must wait to hear what the JSC will decide.

”The BLA would only urge that the JSC must be expeditious in dealing with the issue,” she said.

”He is guilty of no crime, and he should be entitled to be treated as such.” – Sapa