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In an effort to prevent possible impeachment and suspension, Western Cape Judge President John Hlophe has approached the courts.
The Judicial Service Commission (JSC) last month voted that the judge president should be removed from office due to gross misconduct. This comes after the Judicial Conduct Tribunal in April found Hlophe to be guilty of trying to influence the outcomes of former president Jacob Zuma’s corruption charges in 2008.
Hlophe allegedly told retired Justice Bess Nkabinde that the matter needed to be decided “properly” and during what was described as a casual conversation with Justice Chris Jafta, Hlophe uttered the Zulu phrase “sesithembele kinina”, which when translated as per the JSC documents alludes to you are our last hope or which Hlophe said in the context of their discussion “was a Zulu phrase he used to express his view ‘that the issue of privilege would receive satisfactory attention from the court’.”
Findings of the majority concluded that Hlophe’s conduct breached the provision of section 165 of the Constitution in that he improperly attempted to influence Nkabinde and Jafta to violate their oaths of office; his conduct seriously threatened and interfered with the independence, impartiality, dignity and effectiveness of the Constitutional Court; and his conduct threatened public confidence in the judicial system.
The minority, however, argued that the interactions between Hlophe and the two justices – Nkabinde and Jafta – regarding the Zuma and Thint cases were brief and general.
Hlophe denied the claims that he tried to influence the outcome of the cases.
The findings of the minority include that the Tribunal erred in placing reliance upon the evidence of Jafta and Nkabinde in support of its conclusion that Hlophe is guilty of gross misconduct. “The versions of the two Justices which were, in material respects, disputed by Hlophe JP are inherently improbable. They should not have formed the basis for Hlophe JP’s guilty findings by the Tribunal.”
According to reports, Hlophe will also ask the court to declare that last month’s meeting was unlawful as neither the chief justice nor deputy chief justice were there, as required by the Constitution.
The matter was referred to the National Assembly. However, a decision must still be made on whether to impeach the judge president.
The JSC is expected to meet on Monday to decide whether they will recommend Hlophe’s suspension to President Cyril Ramaphosa.