JSC won’t axe Hlophe from selection panel

Western Cape judge president John Hlophe will, on 4 June, plead his case before the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) as he seeks to avert a recommendation that he be impeached for gross misconduct for trying to sway two judges of the Constitutional Court 13 years ago.

The JSC will hear representations from Hlophe as it deliberates on a ruling a fortnight ago by the Judicial Conduct Tribunal that he was on a politically-motivated mission when he raised a pending matter relating to the corruption case against then aspirant president Jacob Zuma with judges Bess Nkabinde and Chris Jafta in 2008.

The tribunal was scathing of Hlophe’s claims that Nkabinde and Jafta were, respectively, a vacillating witness and recalcitrant complainant, who were pressured into falsely accusing him by former chief justice Pius Langa and then deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke.

The severity of the finding has prompted three separate approaches to the JSC not to proceed with interviews for candidates for two vacancies on the Western Cape bench on Friday April 23 because Hlophe is a member of the panel.

But JSC secretary Sello Chiloane said there was no legal reason to suspend his participation, and postponing the interviews would not only be logistically awkward but would delay filling the vacancies. 

“Postponing the interviews will come at great cost to the public including right of access to courts.”

This came in a letter sent to the Cape Bar Council in response to its request that the commission rather use Friday to deliberate on the tribunal’s report to reach finality sooner. Hlophe’s participation risked tainting the selection process, it submitted.

Western Cape Premier Alan Winde, who serves on the JSC, had also asked for the interviews to be postponed pending its decision on Hlophe’s fate.

Freedom Under Law (FUL) said it was mulling its legal options regarding the JSC’s decision to allow Hlophe to participate in the interviews. On Wednesday, the organisation sent a legal letter of demand to the commission giving it 24 hours to reconsider its failure thus far to recommend Hlophe’s suspension to President Cyril Ramaphosa, pending its decision.

Hlophe has rejected the tribunal’s report and accused it of being swayed by what he called the partisan views of FUL chairperson Johann Kriegler, a former justice of the apex court, and the Democratic Alliance.

Legal challenges by FUL and the DA ensured the complaint of gross conduct against Hlophe was revived after it was dismissed by the JSC in 2009 for lack of sufficient evidence.

Hlophe, in a letter from his legal counsel, last week said he was determined to overturn the findings as wrong in law and in fact. Hlophe’s lawyer, Barnabas Xulu, has also suggested he would launch a legal review in the high court.

Hlophe recently raised eyebrows by allocating the corruption case against ANC MP Bongani Bongo to himself and then dismissed the bribery charges after a section 174 application by the former minister.

The state has applied for leave to appeal the judgment, arguing that he erred nine times on points of law. 

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