FUL to challenge minister’s decision to cover Hlophe costs

2012-08-22 10:32

Judicial NGO Freedom Under Law (FUL) has vowed to challenge Justice Minister Jeff Radebe’s claim that the State will cover Western Cape Judge President John Hlophe’s legal fees – no matter what the outcome of his case before the Constitutional Court.

In a hard-hitting statement today, the group’s chairperson, retired Judge Johann Kriegler, challenged Radebe’s “belief” that he has “unfettered discretion to make such costs arrangements”, and threatened “legal steps”.

Hlophe in April lost two battles in the Supreme Court of Appeal, both cases involving attempts he allegedly made to improperly influence two Constitutional Court justices in cases involving corruption allegations against President Jacob Zuma.

The Constitutional Court has since refused Hlophe leave to appeal to it against those two rulings – one of a case brought by DA leader Helen Zille and the other by Freedom Under Law – and the Judicial Service Commission now has to properly investigate the justices’ charges against Hlophe.

Last year, Radebe said Hlophe would have to repay the millions he racked up in legal fees should he lose.

But in a Parliamentary reply this week, Radebe said: “I have decided, in light of the importance of the constitutional issues raised in the case involving Judge Hlophe and the judges of the Constitutional Court, that I will not be seeking recovery of costs incurred in the case involving Judge Hlophe and the judges of the Constitutional Court.”

In his statement today, Kriegler demanded to know why the department of justice decided to fund Hlophe’s legal fights in the first place.

His NGO also wants to see a full statement of account for Hlophe’s lawyers, and details of how much they were paid by the State and for which services.

“The statement would mean that the minister has committed the public purse to paying Judge Hlophe’s costs even if he is found guilty of the grave charges still outstanding against him,” said Kriegler in his statement.

“The charge which the Supreme Court of Appeal ordered the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) to investigate properly is essentially one of attempting to defeat the ends of justice, and FUL’s charge is one of gross misconduct arising from Judge Hlophe’s scandalous public reaction to that charge.”

Kriegler said the decision “ascribed to” Radebe was “legally and ethically indefensible”.

“There has never been a suggestion that the judge president of the Cape court was acting in the course of his duties when on his own admission he raised with two justices in their offices in Braamfontein the politically sensitive Zuma/Thint cases they were considering at the time,” Kriegler said in the statement.

“The minister’s alleged reliance on the Constitutional importance of the complaints is equally unsound. No constitutional issue has ever been raised in the two complaints against the judge ... The fundamental issue has at all times been Judge Hlophe’s fitness for judicial office.”

Kriegler said that Hlophe racked up the legal bills over more than four years while he, “retaining his office and its benefits, vigorously – and thus far successfully – fought to put off the final determination of the truth of his conversation with the two justices”.

“In the circumstances it is unconscionable that such costs are to be borne by the citizenry,” he said.

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