'Hlophe statement was in the public interest'

The judges of the Constitutional Court publicised a misconduct allegation against Cape Judge President John Hlophe in the interests of justice and transparency, Chief Justice Pius Langa said on Tuesday.

“It was considered to be a matter of extreme public interest,” Langa told a Judicial Service Commission (JSC) hearing in Johannesburg.

“It was felt that it was in the public interest to deal with the matter quickly and advise all the parties concerned quickly and the method of publishing a media statement came about in that way.

“It was felt that if the public had got wind of this matter, it might go in a manner which is not correct and in a manner which might cause problems in relation to the judgement which the Constitutional Court was busy working on at the time.”

The JSC is investigating a complaint that last year Hlophe tried to influence two Constitutional Court judges—Bess Nkabinde and Chris Jafta—in a judgement involving presidential front-runner Jacob Zuma, who was at that stage still facing charges of fraud and corruption.

In turn, Hlophe has laid a complaint against the judges of the Constitutional Court, saying they infringed on his rights by releasing a media statement on the allegation against him without giving him the opportunity to respond.

“This is an issue where I still believe transparency would serve the call of justice,” said Langa.

Langa said he phoned Hlophe to inform him of the complaint against the JSC but did not tell him that a media statement would be released on the matter.

Asked what Hlophe’s response was to the complaint, Langa said: “He did not deny it — He said, ‘well, I will respond’. That was it.”

Langa was asked if he had noted the subsequent reports in the media on Hlophe’s response and if he would consider that response as “brief and to the point”.

“Well, if the expression ‘utter rubbish’ is brief and to the point, then it was,” replied Langa.

He told the JSC how the incident had distressed the two Constitutional Court judges involved.

“This was a distressing matter to them — it was not something they were very excited about.”

Langa said the two judges did not want to be the only complainants in the matter, but denied that they had been manipulated into laying the complaint.

“We did not manipulate them.”

He considered it his duty to inform the JSC of the incident.

“I did not have a political motive at all. I thought the issue of what the JSC would do, would be up to the JSC — “I did not have a desire to have Judge President Hlophe impeached.

“This was a painful matter to me. I am aware that in the history of the judiciary in South Africa there’s probably not an impeachment — I have no ulterior motives against the Judge President,” said Langa.

He confirmed he had been involved in investigations following allegations of racism by Hlophe in the past, but said that had been resolved long ago.—Sapa

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