State won’t pay Hlophe’s bill

2013-10-13 10:00

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The state is refusing to pay Western Cape Judge President John Hlophe’s legal team’s “excessive” fees.

The justice department and the legal team representing Hlophe before a tribunal of the Judicial Service Commission are involved in a dispute over what the department is willing to pay.

Advocate Courtenay Griffiths, a British lawyer who describes himself as “one of the most sought-after international specialists in criminal law” is representing Hlophe before the tribunal.

City Press’ sister publication, Rapport, last week enquired how much Griffiths’ fees were, but he said it “is none of the media’s business”.

“I suggest that your readers would be more interested in the important issues raised by these proceedings and not titillating trivia,” he said.

Taxpayers have already coughed up more than R8.7?million for Hlophe’s legal fees since he was accused of serious misconduct in 2008. There is still R780?000 outstanding in legal costs. The justice department refuses to pay this because it says the fees are “excessive”, and the Law Society of South Africa is investigating the matter.

Constitutional Court judges Bess Nkabinde and Chris Jafta alleged at the time that Hlophe tried to influence them improperly in favour of Jacob Zuma, who was not yet president at the time.

Hlophe fought a four-year battle in the Supreme Court of Appeal and the Constitutional Court to avoid being investigated for misconduct.

He lost the cases, but Justice Minister Jeff Radebe decided to cover the costs “in light of the importance of the constitutional issues raised in the case”.

Radebe’s spokesperson, Advocate ­Mthunzi Mhaga, said the department wanted to reach an agreement with Hlophe’s legal team before the tribunal sat, “to avoid future disputes”.

“The department made an offer which we think is fair and reasonable. Judge Hlophe’s legal team has made a counterproposal that was rejected. We feel (Hlophe’s legal team’s) fees are excessive and outrageous.”

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