/ 19 September 2020

Hlophe says ‘assassination plot’ is a bid to sully his name

Launch Of Western Cape Provincial Efficiency Enhancement Committee
Serious allegations: Judge John Hlophe (left) is being investigated by the Judicial Conduct Tribunal, as ordered by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng (right). (Shelley Christians/Gallo Images/The Times)

The legal team of Western Cape Judge President John Hlophe claims an alleged assassination plot against Deputy Judge President Patricia Goliath, allegedly planned by Hlophe, could be used to sway the opinion of a Judicial Service Commission (JSC) investigation into the instability on the Cape Bench.

There have been several news reports in recent weeks based on a tip-off to the Judicial Inspectorate of Prisons of an alleged plot to kill Goliath. It is alleged that two correctional services inmates in Pietermaritzburg said they were hired to assassinate her. 

But Hlophe’s lawyer, Barnabas Xulu, said the allegations were baseless, and “crime intelligence, which interviewed the inmates, found them to be false”, as well as claiming it may be a “hoax”.

Hlophe’s lawyers also claim the Judicial Inspectorate of Prisons report was leaked only a day after the inmates were interviewed, adding he wasn’t given a chance to respond to their claims. “We await law enforcement agencies to hear if they are investigating this matter,” Xulu said.

“But the whole saga comes up during the process when the JSC is investigating complaints against Hlophe and Goliath. We want the JSC to give direction as to how to deal with these matters.” 

Hlophe this week called for a judicial commission of inquiry into the allegations, with Xulu noting that the allegation that a senior figure in the South African judiciary would plan a hit on his colleague was a serious charge. He added that efforts should be made to determine who was behind the claims. 

“These are serious allegations. But what is the cause of the allegations? I can only speculate. We must allow for a fair process to take place. Leaking a report in a matter like this is not helping the situation. It just exacerbates and tarnishes the integrity of the judiciary,” Xulu said.

The situation Xulu is referring to is the growing discord within the Cape judiciary. Hlophe and his deputy have, for several months, been at loggerheads after Goliath accused him of gross misconduct and putting the integrity of the courts at risk.  

In an affidavit, Goliath mentioned several instances that bring Hlophe’s credibility into question. 

The claims against Hlophe include the alleged assault of an unnamed colleague, who had to be persuaded not to lay a criminal complaint. According to reports, the judge in this incident was later revealed to be Mushtak Parker, who later denied the assault took place. 

Goliath also claims Hlophe used abusive language against her and had undermined her role as the deputy judge president of the Western Cape high court. 

Hlophe denied the allegations. But that didn’t stop Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng from instructing the Judicial Conduct Tribunal to investigate him. 

Earlier this week, the office of the chief justice (OCJ) confirmed that a security assessment for Goliath was under way, but that Western Cape police have not yet reported back on whether the threats were credible. 

While the police finalise their assessment, private security has been hired to safeguard Goliath in the interim. 

 “The chief justice does not commission any investigation into threats to members of the judiciary, and this matter is no exception. It is the responsibility of OCJ officials to request SAPS [South African Police Service] to conduct threat and risk assessments in the judiciary where necessary,” a statement from the OCJ read. 

Asked whether the looming tribunal, investigations into his conduct, and the alleged assassination plot had affected Hlophe’s relationships with his colleagues, Xulu said the Cape judiciary was still operating optimally. “As a practising attorney in the same division … I would say that the Western Cape remains the best-performing division in the country,” Xulu said.