Editorial | Accountability systems do work in the JSC

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The Judicial Services Commission has voted for Judge President John Hlophe to face impeachment. Photo: Felix Dlangamandla/Netwerk24
The Judicial Services Commission has voted for Judge President John Hlophe to face impeachment. Photo: Felix Dlangamandla/Netwerk24


Judges, magistrates and police officers often invoke the phrase “the long arm of the law” when talking about the fact that no matter how long it takes for a crime to be solved or an infraction to be addressed, justice will invariably prevail.

It was the same long arm of the law that finally saw Western Cape Judge President John Hlophe be found guilty of misconduct for improperly trying to influence a court judgment in favour of then ANC president Jacob Zuma in 2008.

A judicial conduct tribunal found that Hlophe breached the provisions of section 165 of the Constitution by attempting to influence justices of the Constitutional Court to violate their oaths of office.

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The tribunal ruled: “His conduct seriously threatened and interfered with the independence and impartiality, dignity and effectiveness of the Constitutional Court. His conduct threatened public confidence in the judicial system. Judges may not discuss the merits of a case with the judge who heard it while judgment is pending unless discussion was initiated by the judge in writing. That principle is deeply rooted in the legal profession.”

This pronouncement comes 13 years after a complaint was first laid by two judges of the apex court. During this time, Hlophe continued with his duties, despite the allegations against him. Several legal caveats explained the delay, but, in the public eye, suspicion was developing that the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) – constituted of lawyers, academics and politicians – was not keen to act against him.

Finally, justice has prevailed; Hlophe faces impeachment, which would result in his removal as a judge and losing the salary and benefits that accrue to judges even in retirement.

The JSC’s decision proves that systems put in place to regulate the conduct of judicial officers do work. It is now up to the National Assembly and the president to finally put the matter to bed.


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