Hlophe 'to go back on leave'

Justice Minister Enver Surty and embattled Cape Judge President John Hlophe have reached an informal agreement which provides for Hlophe to go back on “special leave” pending the resolution of his dispute with the judges of the Constitutional Court.

This comes after Surty and Hlophe, embroiled in a public spat over the unresolved complaint against Hlophe and his subsequent unilateral return to work, met on Wednesday this week to resolve the impasse.

Hlophe’s confidant and University of Cape Town administrator Paul Ngobeni told the Mail & Guardian Hlophe had made an undertaking to the minister that he would go back on special leave until such time as Surty had “applied his mind” to the representations made to him by Hlophe’s legal team.

He claimed mediation efforts were at an advanced stage, which would result in an agreement to see the complaint against Hlophe dropped.

“The settlement under discussion will involve the Constitutional Court judges withdrawing their complaint and Hlophe also withdrawing his complaint and giving up his judgement in the Witwatersrand Local Division and some sort of mutual apology,” Ngobeni said.

He insisted that Hlophe would not have agreed to meet the justice minister on their public disagreement until he felt confident that a settlement was near.

A highly placed justice official confirmed that a settlement was in the offing but would not confirm Ngobeni’s version of it.

But the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said an informal agreement had been struck providing for Hlophe to stay at home while his dispute with the Constitutional Court judges is ironed out.

He added that Hlophe’s unexpected arrival at his Cape High Court chambers had almost derailed the settlement negotiations and tested Surty’s patience.

Yesterday Surty and Hlophe issued a joint media statement which did not make it clear whether Hlophe would be returning to work and “acknowledged that there are different interpretations to regulations”.

Hlophe requested special leave at the height of the controversy over his alleged attempt to lobby other Constitutional Court judges in ANC president Jacob Zuma’s favour.

Last week, in his dispute with the Constitutional Court still unresolved, he defied Surty by unilaterally returning to work.

In the statement Hlophe apologised to Surty for contributing to a “misunderstanding” between the two.

“The judge president is keen to resume and continue with his duties in an uncontroversial environment,” the media statement said.

Hlophe acknowledged that he had put Surty’s office “under extreme pressure”.

“The judge president expressed a view that he is hopeful to seek a way that will restore mutual respect for the respective responsibilities of the minister and judge president,” the statement said.

Justice spokesperson Zolile Nqayi said he was not aware of any mediation efforts in the Hlophe matter.

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