The second day of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) hearings held in the seaside Twelve Apostles Hotel in Cape Town got off to an explosive start on Tuesday when Northern Cape Judge President Frans Kgomo finally appeared before the commission.
Kgomo, who has applied for a berth at both the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) and the Constitutional Court, was taken to task by some of his SCA colleagues about a judgement he handed down in his permanent role in the Northern Cape.
He is currently an acting judge of the SCA.
A calm-looking Kgomo, who had earlier told the commission about his ”humble background” and the fact that he was a subject of Kgosi Mogale, got a tongue-lashing from attorney Julian von Klemperer.
Von Klemperer, who is one of two commissioners representing the attorneys’ profession, read out in great detail to an attentive Kgomo the requirements for impartiality by a judge.
The Mail & Guardian has previously reported that Kgomo would face a tough time after the SCA set aside a judgement he had made in a racially sensitive case.
SCA Judge Nathan Ponnen had accused Kgomo of bias in a racially charged murder case he had heard as judge president of the Northern Cape. Kgomo had granted leave to appeal only against the sentence and refused to recuse himself when requested to do so by counsel for the accused men.
Ponnen ordered that the case of Joseph le Grange, sentenced to 24 years in jail, and two co-accused be retried and that Kgomo should not hear the matter again.
”I want to start by saying I accept the judgement as I should,” Kgomo told the commission.
He added that he would attempt to ”ameliorate the negative impact” of the judgement. He then read to the commission his original judgement, acknowledging his error and saying: ”Mea culpa.”
Law Professor Johann Neethling said he was perturbed that a judge of Kgomo’s calibre would make such a mistake.
Respected human rights lawyer George Bizos also entered the fray, suggesting to Kgomo that he had ”overreacted” during the Le Grange trial when he thought he had overheard a defence lawyer being disrespectful and threatened to hold the lawyer in contempt of court.
This development came after Water Affairs and Forestry Minister Lindiwe Hendricks had revealed that Kimberley Bar members had raised concerns about the judge president’s ”temperament”.
Kgomo hit back by reading into the record a letter of nomination written by his accusers when they put his name forward for the position of Northern Cape judge president.
A passionate Kgomo, after conceding that mistakes of the kind he made were not a common occurrence, said that he thought he was serving justice by cross-questioning a witness in the exuberant manner that he did.
JSC member and spokesperson Marumo Moerane cleverly came to Kgomo’s rescue by suggesting that a former Constitutional Court judge, John Didcott, had once committed a similar mistake but eventually made it on to the benches of the highest court in the land.
The last word of criticism belonged to Inkatha Freedom Party MP Koos van der Merwe, who told Kgomo that he would argue that he was not ”fit and proper” to be a judge of the SCA and Constitutional Court.
”One swallow does not make a summer,” retorted Kgomo defiantly.