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

2020-02-04 14:24
Judge John Hlophe.

Judge John Hlophe. (Pauli Van Wyk, Beeld, file)

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The judges of the Western Cape High Court have agreed that for as long as the allegations of gross misconduct levelled against Judge President John Hlophe remain unresolved, the public's confidence in the division will be impaired.

The complaint against Hlophe and his wife Judge Gayaat Salie-Hlophe was laid at the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) last month by Hlophe's deputy, Judge Patricia Goliath.

"Allegations and counter-allegations arising from the complaint made by Goliath DJP and Hlophe JP are in the public domain. For as long as the allegations remain unresolved, the confidence which the public is entitled to place in the integrity of the Western Cape Branch will be impaired," a joint statement said this week.

The judges also denied that any judge had remained silent on the alleged issues raised.

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

"It has been suggested in the press that the judges of this Division have remained silent through cowardice or complicity. That is emphatically not so.

"Given the procedure for investigating complaints against judges, the proper place for judges with relevant knowledge to speak is before the JCC and any Judicial Conduct Tribunal that may be established.

"We can assure the public that we have always adjudicated, and will always adjudicate, cases allocated to us fearlessly and with absolute impartiality."

The judges said they welcomed the Judicial Conduct Committee's assurance via a statement that it would deal with the complaint "without fear, favour or prejudice and as expeditiously as reasonably practicable" following the allegations and counter-allegations made by Deputy Judge President Goliath, the judge president and Salie-Hlophe.

A 14-page complaint was lodged by judge Goliath against the Hlophes last month.

Denying there was any merit to the complaint, the judge president and Judge Salie-Hlophe dismissed it as containing gossip, rumours and information "obtained from the grapevine".

Climate of fear

Judge Goliath in her affidavit accused Judge President Hlophe and Judge Salie-Hlophe of "gross misconduct" which she charges compromised the proper functioning of the highest court in the province.

Preferential treatment for his wife, 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.

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

READ | Goliath vs Hlophe: Judge President 'should take voluntary leave' pending gross misconduct claim

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.

Salie-Hlophe, in turn, accused Goliath of 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.

Last week, one senior judge told News24 that the lodging of the complaint was "long overdue, but nobody wanted to be the one to report it".

The judges in their statement have now denied that.

READ | Now it’s Hlophe vs Goliath as Judge President plans counter complaint, defamation suit

The Cape Bar Council has also written to Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, requesting that both the judge president and his deputy not perform their functions as the heads of the division, or that of judges, until there is an outcome to the complaint.

It further asked that Judge Salie-Hlophe also not perform and that all three be requested to take voluntary leave.

The National Association of Democratic Lawyers has also called for Hlophe to be placed on special leave to "enable the judges to continue their important work without any tension or pressure of any kind" until the complaint is dealt with and the process concluded.

The Legal Practice Council in the Western Cape on Monday added its support to concerns raised by the Cape Bar Council and the National Association of Democratic Lawyers, echoing the call to the JSC to take prompt action.

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

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