SCA interviews: Judge Piet Koen tells JSC he was 'gutted' by Mogoeng's criticism

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Chief justice Mogoeng Mogoeng.
Chief justice Mogoeng Mogoeng.
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  • The JSC is interviewing candidates for five SCA positions. 
  • Piet Koen spoke about being "gutted" by Mogoeng Mogoeng's criticism during JSC interviews last year. 
  • He said that, after the interview, some practitioners suggested he sue Mogoeng.  

Pietermaritzburg High Court Judge Piet Koen, who has been presiding over the arms deal corruption trial of former president Jacob Zuma, told the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) he was "gutted" by former Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng's criticism during the JSC interviews in April 2021. 

Koen, who is vying for a position on the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA), said Mogoeng even went as far as saying that he "wondered how I ever was made a judge, how I dealt with litigants and people who appear before me". 

During the April 2021 interviews, Mogoeng said he was shocked by Koen's behaviour at a 2016 meeting to discuss cost-cutting measures. 

According to the Mail & Guardian, the meeting involved judges of the KwaZulu-Natal division of the High Court, Mogoeng and members of the Office of the Chief Justice. 

AS IT HAPPENS | Supreme Court interviews - live coverage

Mogoeng, at the time, said: "Now your comments in particular [2016 comments], and I am putting it at the lightest possible level, were the most discourteous comments I've ever heard a judge make to his own colleague. I left the meeting deeply concerned about how KZN Judge President [Achmat] Jappie will ever be able to run a division like that.

"Deeply concerned about how... well, let me only focus on you, how you treat advocates who appear before you. How you treat litigants and witnesses. How you treat members of the public in other words. I was shocked! I said to myself: 'How did he become a judge?'."

On Monday, during the interview in Johannesburg, Koen said he was "saddened" after his interview in 2021.

He said that, when he left the venue, he "felt gutted by the criticism that had been expressed of me". 

He said: "I don't want to spend negative energy on this issue. It is something that happened, and I think it was unjustified, with respect."

Koen said that, after the interview, his phone rang non-stop, adding that the experience was something that he "relives quite often in the early hours of the morning". 

He also said other judges even asked what Mogoeng was talking about because "we [the judges] know you".

Koen said other practitioners suggested that he should consider suing Mogoeng, but he questioned where that would get him.

Koen provided the JSC with transcripts and audio of the 2016 judges' meeting. He said during that meeting there was no raising of voices, which the commissioners would pick up when they listened to it. 

He said: 

As I've said, it happened; I was gutted by what was said. If litigants or people in the legal profession google my name, they come up with that interview and the lashing that I received; that is going to be a historical fact that is going to remain with me for the rest of my life, but we must move on. I don't want to hop back on it. I think there are more important things; I see my role in making a contribution to the judiciary.

Deputy Chief Justice Mandisa Maya, who is chairing the interviews, said she wanted to put it on record that those who worked with Koen at the SCA didn't know the person Mogoeng had described.

"Throughout your acting stints at the Supreme Court of Appeal, you always behaved impeccably, as any good judge would," Maya said. 

Eleven shortlisted candidates are vying for five positions on the SCA bench.

Six were interviewed on Monday. 



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