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11 Oct 2008 10:24
Cape Judge President John Hlophe wants R10-million in damages from the Constitutional Court, the Saturday Star and Weekender newspapers report.
In an unprecedented letter of demand sent by Hlophe’s lawyers to Chief Justice Pius Langa, the Constitutional Court judges are accused of damaging Hlophe’s “dignity and reputation”.
In May, the court’s judges laid a complaint with the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) and released a public statement charging that Hlophe allegedly tried to improperly influence Judge Bess Nkabinde and acting Judge Chris Jafta in a case related to corruption charges against African National Congress leader Jacob Zuma.
Last month, Hlophe won a Johannesburg High court case against the Constitutional Court judges when Judge Phineas Mojapelo ruled that the court had infringed on Hlophe’s dignity by making the public complaint about his alleged interference.
On Friday, the Constitutional Court filed leave to appeal against the Johannesburg High Court ruling. The letter was part of the addendum to its appeal.
Hlophe’s lawyer, Lister Nuku, says in the letter that the Constitutional Court judges “made untested allegations of gross judicial misconduct against [Hlophe]”.
The letter says their media statement was “deliberate, and aimed at injuring [Hlophe’s] personality rights, thus forcing him to resign from his position as a judge”.
“Without conveying the factual basis for such damaging allegations, it is the only reasonable conclusion that the Constitutional Court judges were deliberately negligent and leveraged on their judicial status to mobilise vicious and vindictive public views against [Hlophe] with the sole aim of forcing him to resign from his position as a judge.”
The letter also says that as a result of the publication of the media statement, Hlophe “is associated with corruption, judicial indiscipline, scandals and lack of judgement and discernment.
The damage to [his] reputation ...
In the letter, Hlophe says summons will be issued against the Constitutional Court judges if they refuse or neglect to pay the R10-million within 30 days.
The letter was sent on September 26, the same day the Johannesburg High Court made its ruling.
On Saturday, defamation expert Dario Milo told the Weekender the amount of money claimed was entirely inconsistent with existing legal precedents.
“Courts are reluctant to award more than R100 000—even for the most serious of defamations ... If the merits favour his case, the most judge Hlophe would get based on existing precedents is R500 000.”
On Friday, in their appeal application papers, the Constitutional Court’s judges argued that the Johannesburg High Court’s finding was contradictory and not justified in law.
The Constitutional Court stands by its claim that Hlophe had attempted to influence certain judges improperly and said it was necessary to make this public to safeguard the independence of the judiciary.
The court’s complaint is still to be heard by the JSC, to which it had sent a letter of complaint.
Hlophe has spent the past three years fending off various complaints to the JSC, including one of moonlighting for a company without the necessary permission, and another of granting that firm permission to sue a judge in his court for defamation.
A divided JSC ruled last year that there was not sufficient evidence to warrant an impeachment inquiry against him.—Sapa
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