The Western Cape legal fraternity’s hopes of seeing the back of Judge President John Hlophe appear to have been dashed after it emerged this week that the Jackie Selebi trial judge, Meyer Joffe, is the only contender for the South African Judicial Institute’s top job.
The Mail & Guardian can reveal that Judge Joffe — who has been at the centre of some controversy as the judicial officer presiding over the corruption trial of South African’s former top cop — is the only judge who will be interviewed on Friday for the executive director’s position.
A well-placed source said the three-year contract to head the institute had to be re-advertised after former judges showed little appetite for it. It was then resolved that the position should be occupied by a sitting judge.
Joffe would fit the bill because he is winding down his career and is scheduled to retire in 2011 from his position on the South Gauteng High Court bench.
The M&G previously reported that Hlophe was tipped for the position, possibly as a temporary sidelining in preparation for his later move to the Constitutional Court.
Speculation that he was bound for the college became increasingly rife after the Western Cape judge president was passed over for a seat on the Constitutional Court.
It was believed he would move to Johannesburg after he was seen packing books in his chambers.
Hlophe, who is known to have harboured ambitions of becoming South Africa’s chief justice, now seems set to stay in the Western Cape as the provincial division’s judge-president.
A source close to him told the M&G that Hlophe was not interested in heading the judicial college and ‘would be open to persuasion” only if his appointment to it was for ‘strategic reasons”.
The source said Hlophe would be suited to the job given his previous academic background and could pursue research if he were to accept a secondment to the institute.
Hlophe has kept a low profile since he failed to make even the shortlist of recommended candidates forwarded by the Judicial Service Commission to President Jacob Zuma in September.
Judges Sisi Khampepe, Mogoeng wa Mogoeng, Johan Froneman and Chris Jafta have since been appointed to the Constitutional Court, with new Chief Justice Sandile Ngcobo, who is also the judicial institute’s chairperson.
The institute was formed earlier this year to train aspirant judges and will be located temporarily in the Johannesburg CBD while a permanent home is constructed on Constitution Hill.