Hlophe recuses himself from Mkhwebane case

Western Cape Judge President John Hlophe on Monday readily agreed to recuse himself from hearing Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane’s legal challenge to the rules governing her impeachment process.

Hlophe was asked to recuse himself by the Democratic Alliance (DA), which is a co-respondent in the matter. The party tabled a motion to Parliament to initiate a process to remove Mkhwebane from office.  

A legal representative for the party, Elzanne Jonker, said the DA wrote to Hlophe last week Wednesday asking that he recuse himself from the matter.

He acknowledged receipt last week and on Monday responded with a brief letter, saying: “Given the public statements made by me and those attributed to my lawyers, perhaps I should not sit in the matter, though I am one of three judges and the Democratic Alliance is one of several parties. I accordingly withdraw from the matter.”

Hlophe has faced calls for his suspension ahead of deliberations by the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) on June 4 on a recommendation by the Judicial Conduct Tribunal that he face impeachment for gross misconduct.

The finding refers to Hlophe’s alleged attempts in 2008 to sway Constitutional Court justices Bess Nkabinde and Chris Jafta to decide a matter that related to the arms deal charges against then presidential hopeful Jacob Zuma in his favour.

Hlophe is challenging the finding.

Last month, social rights organisation Freedom Under Law demanded Hlophe be excluded from the JSC interviews for candidates to fill vacancies in the Western Cape division. The JSC said it was logistically not advisable to delay the interviews, and that in law there was nothing preventing him from participating.

In the event, Hlophe did not put a single question to any of the candidates.

He stirred considerable controversy by allocating to himself the corruption trial of ANC MP Bongani Bongo, a former minister of state security in Zuma’s cabinet, and dismissing the case in February after lawyers for Bongo filed a section 174 application, on the basis that there was no evidence on which a court would reasonably return a finding of guilt.

The charges relate to Bongo’s alleged attempts to bribe the evidence leader in the parliamentary inquiry into state capture at Eskom and the state is seeking leave to appeal the ruling.

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