/ 25 August 2021

Thirteen years later, Judge Hlophe to be impeached

Jafta, Nkabinde: Let Us Be Excused From Hlophe Tribunal
The president’s decision comes five months after the Judicial Service Commission recommended the step

Thirteen years after the saga began, Western Cape high court Judge President John Hlophe has been impeached, a move that could see him removed from the bench. 

The Judicial Service Commission (JSC) said on Wednesday that, after a meeting earlier in the day, it had accepted the recommendation of the Judicial Conduct Tribunal for Hlophe to be impeached. The commission said the matter would be referred to the National Assembly for its decision, in terms of South Africa’s constitution.

In March 2008, Constitutional Court justices Bess Nkabinde and Chris Jafta said Hlophe had personally tried to convince them to give judgments in favour of former president Jacob Zuma in two cases that implicated him in corrupt activities. 

The cases involved the equally drawn out court matter involving Zuma and French arms manufacturer Thales (then called Thint), which both are currently facing criminal corruption charges in the Pietermaritzburg high court. 

In April, the tribunal unanimously found Hlophe guilty of gross misconduct for telling the two justices that “you are our last hope” in supposedly saving Zuma from his legal troubles. The tribunal, headed by Judge Loop Labuschagne, said Hlophe had breached section 165 of the Constitution by attempting to influence Jafta and Nkabinde to violate their oath of office, and recommended that he be impeached.

The judge president has maintained his innocence and said he would contest the tribunal’s findings. 

“[Hlophe] fundamentally disagrees with the factual and legal findings of the tribunal and will, in due course, address to the appropriate forum his contentions. The tribunal misdirected itself on numerous procedural and substantive issues, rendering its findings unjustified,” a letter sent by his legal representative said after the April ruling.

On Wednesday, the JSC said it had decided to accept the tribunal’s findings, and would wait for the National Assembly to finalise the matter. 

“The National Assembly and the parties will be furnished with copies of both the majority and minority views [of the JSC]. In line with the principles of natural justice, the JSC has invited the parties to show cause why it should or should not advise the President [Cyril Ramaphosa] to suspend Judge President Hlophe, pending the finalisation of the matter by the National Assembly,” the JSC added.