Hlophe changes tack ahead of JSC hearing

On the eve of a disciplinary hearing into his conduct, Cape Judge President John Hlophe appears to be altering his legal strategy.

The Mail & Guardian understands that Hlophe dismissed his counsel, Dumisa Ntsebeza, and plans this week to bring an interdict against the Judicial Service Commission in an effort to block its disciplinary hearing

Ntsebeza declined to comment on Sunday morning.

The hearing will take place between April 1 and 8.

Hlophe faces allegations from the judges of the Constitutional Court that he tried to influence their decision-making in cases affecting African National Congress president Jacob Zuma.

Hlophe’s high court application , the M&G understands, will be brought on the grounds that the JSC is biased against him.

A senior legal figure with insight into the unfolding saga told the M&G Hlophe would claim that questions sent to him by the commission were a violation of his right to remain silent.

“He doesn’t seem to understand that he can refuse to answer the questions without any prejudicial conclusions being drawn”, this person said.

Hlophe is also alleging in discussions of the issue that the JSC and the Supreme Court of Appeal are colluding.

The SCA is set to hand down judgement in the Constitutional Court judges’ appeal against an earlier high court ruling that they had violated his rights when they laid a complaint against him, and issued a press release.

He has told people that he believes the SCA is timing its judgement, which he expects to go against him, in order to ensure that the JSC hearing can swiftly get under way. Ntsebeza faced tough questioning from the SCA last week as he tried to argue that the complaint had been laid prematurely.

National interest
Meanwhile, the African Christian Democratic Party said the public had a right to know what transpires at the hearing.

“The African Christian Democratic Party regrets the decision of the JSC not to allow the public or media access to its hearings into the Hlophe complaint by the Constitutional Court judges,” said ACDP MP Steward Swart in a statement.

On Saturday the JSC decided to bar the public and the media from Hlophe’s hearing.

“This is a matter of national interest—whether the Cape judge president tried to influence the Constitutional Court judges or not.”

Swart said the JSC should have considered accusations of lack of transparency once levelled at it after dealing with a case where Hlophe was accused of receiving consultation fees.

In 2006 Hlophe allegedly held a position as a consultant for asset management company Oasis, earning R10 000 a month.
Judges are not allowed to earn income other than their salary, except with the justice minister’s permission.

Hlophe also allegedly gave the same company permission to sue Judge Siraj Desai for defamation. The only person allowed to grant permission for people to sue judges was Hlophe—the judge president.

“The JSC was accused of protecting one of its own ... and this [the handling of the case] resulted in the JSC giving the judge president a mere slap on the wrist warning,” Swart said.

The hearings follow the June 2008 complaint by the Constitutional Court that Hlophe tried to influence Justice Bess Nkabinde and Acting Justice Chris Jafta.

Nic Dawes
Nic Dawes

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