The Judicial Conduct Committee has dismissed complaints against Western Cape High Court Judge president John Hlophe’s wife, Judge Gayaat Salie-Hlophe.
On January 15 2020, Western Cape High Court Deputy Judge president Patricia Goliath lodged a complaint of gross misconduct against Hlophe and Salie-Hlophe, who is also a judge in the same division.
Goliath alleged that Hlophe and Salie-Hlophe had engaged in conduct that compromised the proper functioning and integrity of the court, and seriously impinged on the court’s dignity.
Among the complaints levelled against Salie-Hlophe were that she was improperly involved in the management of the high court, that she enjoyed preferential treatment and that she made unwarranted complaints against colleagues that were entertained by Hlope assumably because he is married to her.
Against Hlophe, Goliath alleged that he was engaged in a “continuous and sustained” attack on her dignity. She also claimed that Hlophe had withdrawn from her the duties she used to perform in her capacity as deputy judge president, that he had insulted her and referred to her in derogatory terms, and that he had generally made her work environment unbearable.
Having initially considered the complaint, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, the acting chairperson of the committee, formed the view that the appropriate remedial action against Salie-Hlophe would be limited to one or more of those envisaged in section 17(8) of the act.
Accordingly, on March 6 2020, he designated Justice Nambitha Dambuza, as provided in section 17(1)(b) of the act, to conduct an inquiry to determine the merits of the complaint by the Goliath against Salie-Hlophe. The complaint against Hlophe was referred for further consideration by the committee in terms of section 16(4) of the act.
Following an investigation, Dambuza dismissed the complaints against Salie-Hlophe. Through a media statement on Friday, Dambuza indicated that “if it was true that Salie-Hlophe received preferential treatment, her enjoyment thereof could not constitute misconduct on her part”, leading to her concluding that “it is therefore unnecessary to deal any further with such allegations”.
Dambuza also found that Salie-Hlophe’s knowledge about upcoming acting appointments and criminal cases derived from her participation in case management meetings, as she had claimed during the investigation.
She also found that the allocation of high-profile cases, such as the Rohde trial, to Salie-Hlophe, “even if contrary to the usual allocation patterns in the division, could hardly constitute misconduct on her part”.
In her statement, Dambuza said: “There may be rumblings of dissatisfaction about aspects of management of the division. There may also be an environment of fear and apprehension among the judges of the division or some of them. But I am unable to find that these emanate from misconduct on the part of Salie-Hlophe.”
As such, the committee proceeded to dismiss the allegations.
In a twist, while the allegations by Goliath were dismissed, Dambuza recommended that the complainant herself be investigated along with Salie-Hlophe by the Judicial Tribunal for counter allegations made by
the latter that Goliath attempted to influence her to lay false criminal charges against Hlophe.
Salie-Hlophe also claimed that Goliath encouraged her to divorce Hlophe and to stop using his surname, and referred to Hlophe as an “old black man”.
Justifying her findings, Dambuza said: “If indeed Goliath made the alleged statements, particularly the act of urging Salie-Hlophe to lay false criminal charges against Hlophe, it seems to me that that would prima facie be impeachable gross misconduct. Similarly, if Salie-Hlophe falsely accused Goliath of having said these things, that too would be impeachable gross misconduct. These aspects of the complaint therefore fall to be investigated by the tribunal.”