No explanation as to why Cape Judge President John Hlophe has 16 outstanding judgments

2018-06-29 12:23
The problem of tardy judgments at the Western Cape High Court has become so serious that advocates have offered to help write the late judgments. (Ashraf Hendricks, GroundUp)

The problem of tardy judgments at the Western Cape High Court has become so serious that advocates have offered to help write the late judgments. (Ashraf Hendricks, GroundUp)

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Judges are supposed to deliver their judgments within three months of the end of hearings. Yet, 16 judgments at the Western Cape High Court have been outstanding for more than six months.

It is an ongoing problem at the court, GroundUp reports. In December, GroundUp reported that 11 judgments were late. Then, as now, Judge President of the Western Cape High Court John Hlophe, failed to respond to queries to explain why this was happening.

The late judgments have been outstanding (reserved in judicial terminology) since at least November 30, 2017.

Read: John Hlophe faces risk of impeachment

One, by Acting Judge Nolita Kose, has been outstanding since July 29, 2016. Acting Judge Kose has nine late judgments. In December she had six late judgments. Judges Nathan Erasmus and Siraj Desai, and Acting Judge Keith Engers each have two late judgments. Judge Lee Bozalek has one late judgment.

Only one judge responded directly to our request for comment. Judge Bozalek wrote that he greatly regretted that his judgment had been outstanding for more than six months. He intends to deliver the judgment in August after the mid-year recess.

Acting Judge Engers passed our request for comment to Elmarie Sievers, who works for Deputy Judge President Patricia Goliath.

"The heads of court are keenly aware of the need to deliver judgments as soon as possible, and they monitor the outstanding judgments on an ongoing basis. Every reserved judgment has to be listed and these lists are updated and circulated weekly, not only to judges, but to the legal fraternity as a whole and other interested parties," wrote Sievers.

"Attorneys and litigants are encouraged to notify the judge president or deputy judge president in order to bring pressure to bear on judges with long outstanding judgments."

We also asked Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng for comment, but his office referred our questions to Judge President Hlophe.

'I couldn't care less' - Hlophe

Our six-month lateness measure is a generous one. According to norms laid out for judges in 2014 by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, judges should hand down their judgments "no later than three months after the last hearing".

Advocate Ismail Jamie, SC, chairperson of the Cape Bar Council, described the situation as "unacceptable".

He said it had been raised at the last Bar Council meeting. Jamie added that he had been in contact with the judge president.

"We've offered to make senior members of the bar available on a pro bono (free of charge) basis to write the [late] judgments, if the parties are amenable," he told GroundUp.

He also said this may involve having to rehear cases, especially if they were trials, as opposed to applications (which are determined mainly by written argument).

We asked Judge President Hlophe, by email, what steps he has taken to deal with the late judgments, and why Acting Judge Kose continued to be assigned cases when she had so many late judgments.

Read more: ConCourt dismisses appeal on SCA's Judge Hlophe misconduct ruling

We have confirmed that our email was brought to his attention. He did not reply.

Judge Hlophe has been involved in numerous controversies, including the extremely late delivery of a vital judgment.

A 2007 Mail & Guardian article states: "In a 2004 case between (former and late) Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang and the pharmaceutical industry, Hlophe was accused of 'unreasonably' delaying his judgment on leave to appeal.

"When it was finally delivered, his ruling was overturned by the Supreme Court of Appeal and not reinstated by the Constitutional Court. Reacting to the ruling, Hlophe said: 'I couldn't care less.' A complaint about his conduct was laid with the Judicial Service Commission."

On July 2, Judge Hlophe will face a Judicial Conduct Tribunal for allegedly attempting to influence Constitutional Court judges in a case involving former president Jacob Zuma.

Read more on:    jsc  |  john hlophe  |  cape town  |  judiciary  |  courts

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