Langa: No ulterior motives in Hlophe matter

There was no ulterior motive behind lodging a complaint against Cape Judge President John Hlophe with the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), Chief Justice Pius Langa said on Thursday.

Speaking at a preliminary probe into the complaint in Johannesburg, Langa said: “I categorically deny the allegation of an ulterior motive.

“I am very much aware that I am the chief justice of South Africa and head of the judiciary in South Africa. The judge president [Hlophe] is head of the 9a division and he is a member of the judiciary.”

Langa said he was sensitive to what happened to the judiciary, particulary with regard to the dignity, integrity and esteem in which it was being held.

“I have no motive at all to damage any aspect of the judiciary, and in this particular case I have no motive to damage the judge president so I deny the allegation,” he said.

“Once I became aware of the allegations, and this had happened, I had no choice but to take the matter forward.”

Langa said the matter was not taken lightly and judges Bess Nkabinde and Chris Jafta, to his observation, looked as though they did not want to be in the position they were in.

“We do regard it as a very serious issue—it’s something I would rather I did not have to deal with,” Langa said.

Earlier, Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke dared Hlophe to prove there was a political motive behind the Constitutional Court’s complaint against him.

“I dare him to put that motive on the table in proper fact,” said Moseneke.

The Constitutional Court judges had complained that Hlophe might have improperly tried to influence a judgement on President Jacob Zuma that they were working on.

Hlophe had counter-complained that the judges publicised their complaint before hearing his side of the story.

Moseneke explained to the hearing in Braamfontein on Thursday that he had returned from a sabbatical to be informed by Acting Chief Justice Kate O’Regan of an alleged improper approach by Hlophe to Acting Justice Jafta and Justice Nkabinde.

Moseneke said in line with his oath of office he was obliged to look at the complaint.

He had to consider the facts and decided it was reportable to the JSC.

He said it was unfortunate that Hlophe had raised a political motive, after Hlophe referred to the fact that only the Democratic Alliance had received a statement on the matter before Hlophe was given a chance to respond.

Moseneke said the court’s email list was compiled of people who ask to be put on it.

He considered Hlophe’s “attack” on the chief justice as very serious.

The Constitutional Court judges had no intention of having Hlophe impeached, said Moseneke. He himself hoped that Hlophe’s career would flourish as he was still young.

Earlier Nkabinde said that she “snapped” when Hlophe began discussing the Zuma case, and told him that he should not.
She had been warned by Jafta that the subject might come up so she stopped him as soon as he broached the subject.

She said that she does not even discuss cases with her colleagues at the court while she is writing them.

Under cross-questioning, she said the issue that Hlophe had said must be “decided properly” referred to the matter of privilege, which she had written a note on.

“He didn’t say ‘decided on in this particular way’,” she said.

Moseneke said they had decided an independent body should hear the complaint and make a finding on it.

Jafta and Nkabinde were reluctant to go ahead with a complaint by themselves, so the whole court decided to lodge a complaint.

“They being our colleagues, as we heard them, we believed them as we do now and we accept what they tell us.”

He said it was up to the JSC to decide whether it was true or not.

“Once we had heard what happened, we couldn’t pretend we did not hear it,” he said.

He said they had made the matter public to avoid rumours from circulating.—Sapa

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