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Report to JCC calls for tribunal to mull conflicting versions of judges’ damaging clash

The Judicial Conduct Committee (JCC) has received a recommendation for a tribunal to further investigate the dispute between Western Cape high court Deputy Judge President (DJP) Patricia Goliath and Judge Gayaat Salie-Hlophe over a “domestic incident” that has driven tensions within the division.

In a report to the JCC, Judge Nambitha Dambuza dismissed Salie-Hlophe’s view that the matter is irrelevant to the misconduct complaint the deputy judge president brought against her and her spouse, Judge President (JP) John Hlophe.

On the contrary, she conceded that it appeared to be central to the highly public breakdown of the relationship between Hlophe and Goliath.

Dambuza added that there could be implications as serious as impeachment for gross misconduct for either judge if their version relating to the alleged incident at Hlophe’s home in 2017 were found to be false.

Dambuza found nothing in interviews with judges in the fraught division to substantiate Goliath’s allegations that her colleagues had suffered unfair treatment at the hands or at the behest of Salie-Hlophe.

“The implicated judges either did not recall the incidents to which the alleged complaints related, or were not keen on participating in these proceedings,” Dambuza wrote. 

“In the end the only conclusion I can make in this regard is that the relationship between the JP and some of the judges is strained. There may be rumblings of dissatisfaction about aspects of management of the division. 

“There may also be an environment of fear and apprehension among the judges of the division or some of them. But I am unable to find that these emanate from misconduct on the part of Judge Salie-Hlophe.”

The incident at Hlophe’s home

Dambuza said the only aspect of the complaint against Salie-Hlophe that required further investigation were the merits or otherwise of the matter were Goliath’s claims about the incident at Hlophe’s home.

Goliath claimed that Salie-Hlophe asked her to take her to hospital following what appeared to be “an altercation” at the home of her husband, and that she required stitches for an injury to her hand.

After Goliath filed her complaint with the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) in early 2020, Salie-Hlope told the media that the deputy judge president had pressed her not only to stop using her husband’s surname, but also to leave him.

Hlophe has in his own affidavit to the JSC confirmed that he subsequently called Goliath to his chambers, accused her of meddling in his private life and asked her to leave the division. He charged that she had used “manufactured information” about his marriage to undermine him professionally, and that, in fact, his wife had accidentally cut herself on a glass door at his home.

In her presentations to the JCC, Salie-Hlophe said the incident was a private matter that was irrelevant to the complaint before it, but Dambuza disagreed.

“I do not think the matter is irrelevant to these proceedings. It appears to be at the centre of the total collapse of the relationship between the JP and the DJP.”

Here he referred to Hlophe’s response to Goliath’s complaint, in which the judge president acknowledged his failure to delegate duties to his deputy and said it was based in part “upon her breach of trust”.

Dumbuza said Goliath’s alleged conduct and statements regarding the incident in 2017 was central to Hlophe’s counterclaim of racism against his deputy. Hlophe’s claim has been dismissed, but he has opted to appeal the decision.

“Whatever happens in those proceedings it seems to me that the alleged conduct by the DJP, and the interaction between the DJP and Judge Salie-Hlophe, will remain at the centre of the complaint against the JP. The DJP insists that Judge Salie-Hlophe lied to the JP about all these allegations. It is, therefore, imperative that this issue be properly determined.”

The JSC is yet to deliver a finding on Hlophe’s challenge to its decision that a tribunal be established to investigate Goliath’s misconduct complaint against him.

It is also awaiting the decision of the Judicial Conduct Tribunal that heard the complaint by Constitutional Court judges Bess Nkabinde and Chris Jafta, dating back to 2008, that Hlophe tried to sway them to decide a matter in favour Jacob Zuma, in the relatively early days of the arms deal corruption case, which is now finally heading for trial.

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