Advocates' body wants Judge President Hlophe and Judge Salie-Hlophe to take special leave

2020-02-04 16:07
Western Cape Judge President John Hlophe. (Mary-Ann Palmer, Media24, City Press, file)

Western Cape Judge President John Hlophe. (Mary-Ann Palmer, Media24, City Press, file)

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The General Council of the Bar on Tuesday urged Judge President John Hlophe and Judge Gayaat Salie-Hlophe to request special leave from the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, pending the Judicial Services Commission’s deliberations into a scathing complaint.

On January 15, Deputy Judge President Patricia Goliath lodged an official complaint with the JSC, alleging "gross misconduct" by Judge Hlophe and Judge Salie-Hlophe, which she claimed compromised the proper functioning of the Western Cape High Court.

Both Hlophe and Galie-Hlophe have dismissed the complaint and its merits.

According to GCB council chairperson Craig Watt-Pringle SC, there was a precedent for judges facing complaints of judicial misconduct to request that this be permitted before suspension is implemented.

READ | We always adjudicate with impartiality – Judges assure public amid Goliath vs Hlophe battle

"At a minimum… the public is aware of a breakdown of trust between the two most senior judges in the division and between the Deputy Judge President and Judge Salie-Hlophe, none of which engenders confidence in the judicial process," Watt-Pringle said in a statement.

Watt-Pringle said the allegations were yet to be considered by the JSC and the council did not purport to express views to its cogency or a response to it.

"The fact that these allegations have been made and are in the public domain is sufficient to impact adversely on public confidence in the judiciary.

"Only when, and in the event that the JSC decides to institute a judicial conduct enquiry into the matter, is there a legislative mechanism for the judges whose conduct is under scrutiny, to be suspended pending finalisation of the process."

Accusations of preferential treatment

In the past, Watt-Pringle said, the minister had acceded to requests for special leave from judges facing this type of complaint.

"The GCB agrees with calls that have been made by its own constituent Bar, the Cape Bar Council and by other organisations and individuals, that it would be in the best interests of the administration of justice and integrity of the High Court, for Judge President Hlophe and Judge Salie-Hlophe to apply to go on special leave pending the JSC's deliberations.

"The GBC accordingly calls on the Judge President and Judge Salie-Hlophe to make such a request to the Minister and trusts that any such request will receive favourable consideration by the Minister."

In her affidavit, Goliath accused Hlophe of preferential treatment for his wife, allegedly assaulting and verbally abusing two judges, and attempting to influence the appointment of judges perceived as "favourably disposed" to former president Jacob Zuma to preside over the so-called Earthlife Africa case involving the nuclear deal.

She said a climate of fear and intimidation prevailed in the high court, adding that she was operating in an "unsafe, unhealthy and oppressive working environment".

According to Goliath's complaint, Salie-Hlophe wielded enormous power, including determining her own working days and hours, as well as having major clout in the appointment of acting judges.

Integrity of Bench essential

Hlophe, through his attorney Barnabas Xulu, denied there was any merit to her complaint, saying it contained gossip, rumours and information "obtained from the grapevine".

Xulu had said the judge president would respond at the appropriate time to the correct forum.

The JSC said the complaint would be dealt with by a statuary body chaired by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo and other senior judges of the superior courts.

Watt-Pringle said respect for the integrity and independence of the Bench was essential to the public's respect for the judicial process as the appropriate and effective means to resolve disputes and adjudicate criminal liability and sanction.

"Conversely, the legitimacy of the courts and rule of law are undermined if serious questions surround the probity of judicial officers. This objective is in accordance with the adage: justice must not just be done, but be seen to be done.

READ | Western Cape Legal Practise Council adds support to concerns over Goliath vs Hlophe saga

"When the judicial officer concerned is in a position to decide not only those matters to which he or she is assigned, but to decide upon or influence the selection of judges to preside in specific cases, any unresolved issues tending to call into question the probity and independence of that judge pose serious concerns for the high regard in which our courts are and ought to be held."

Watt-Pringle said that, in addition to the allegations, the public had also been privy to Judge Salie-Hlope’s "public riposte" to Deputy Judge President Goliath’s complaint.

Salie-Hlophe in a media statement accused Goliath of, among others, attempting to oust the judge president in order to succeed him, describing herself as "collateral damage".

She further accused Goliath of racism, ulterior motives and having an "unhealthy obsession" with her marriage. Goliath declined to respond.

Read more on:    john hloph­e  |  patricia goliath  |  gayaat salie-hlophe  |  cape town  |  judiciary  |  courts

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