Judge President Hlophe accuses fellow judge of being 'openly defiant' as in-house battle escalates

2020-03-20 18:31
Judge John Hlophe.

Judge John Hlophe. (Mary-Ann Palmer)

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Western Cape Judge President John Hlophe has accused Judge Andre le Grange of being "openly defiant", as an in-house battle escalates.

This latest development comes after Le Grange wrote a letter to Hlophe last week, saying he refused to preside over cases with Judge Mushtak Parker due to what he called a "prevailing climate of untruthfulness".

Ten judges, thereafter, wrote to Hlophe to say they too would not sit with Parker until his assault allegation, now withdrawn, against Hlophe was resolved.

The judges said Parker gave materially inconsistent accounts of the alleged incident, which he later said might not have unfolded the way he originally perceived.

But this, the judges said, was diametrically at odds with what he had told his colleagues months after the incident, which he ended up putting in an affidavit he gave to a fellow judge for safekeeping.

Minority

On Thursday, Hlophe said the views they expressed "are held by a minority of judges" in the division, and the "manner of publication, and the tenor and tone of the correspondence is disconcerting".

On Friday, in a letter seen by News24 and delivered by hand and email to Le Grange, Hlophe wrote "no meaningful purpose will be served by further engaging with you in this regard" after Le Grange wrote to the judge president to say he had not leaked his correspondence to the press.

The day before, Le Grange wrote: "My position remains unchanged and I will respond accordingly in any appropriate forum to any supposed rights you claim to have reserved."

In response, Hlophe, in a letter headed "Conduct", stated: "My aforesaid communiqué was simply a courteous reminder to colleagues of their constitutional obligations, the critical role they perform as part of the judiciary and some of my statutory duties and obligations as head of court.

"I did not expect, nor desire, a response from judges; certainly, not the sort of openly defiant response received from you.

"I have made my position clear in my previous communiqué, and am of the respectful view that no meaningful purpose will be served by further engaging with you in this regard."

Misconduct

In January, Deputy Judge President Louise Goliath lodged a 14-page gross misconduct complaint against the Hlophes, whom she charged compromised the proper functioning of the Western Cape High Court.

Preferential treatment for his wife, Judge Gayaat Salie-Hlophe, 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, were among the claims contained in the document.

READ MORE | Hlope slams judges who won't work together

Hlophe in a 100-page affidavit to the Judicial Conduct Committee (JCC) disputed the allegations as a complaint that has "all the hallmarks of a paranoid judge with little appreciation of collegiality, restraint, composure and confidentiality".

He, in turn, accused Goliath of leaking her complaint to the media in a "malicious and bad faith attempt to generate public outrage, lynching and condemnation of my leadership of the division that would support calls for my immediate suspension and removal".

The JCC was dealing with the case, and Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, who was copied into Hlophe's letter, said earlier this week he had nothing to do with JCC matters.

The JCC decided the complaints Goliath and Hlophe had lodged against each other should be referred to Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo for an inquiry to be conducted in terms of the Judicial Service Commission Act.

The spokesperson for the Office of the Chief Justice, Nathi Mncube, said: "The chief justice is on record as saying the JCC, a subcommittee of the [Judicial Service Commission] should be given space to deal with the matters emanating from Western Cape division of the high court. It will be highly inappropriate for him, as the chairperson of the JSC, to express a view before the JCC concludes its business."

The chairperson of the Law Society of SA's Criminal Law Working Group, William Booth, said the conflict between the judges had not affected the functioning of the court but felt it should be resolved as speedily as possible.

He added of greater concern, currently, was conditions at courts and prisons regarding promised Covid-19 sanitisation measures which were causing bigger problems.

Read more on:    john hlope  |  cape town
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