Western Cape judiciary: Tensions deepen as 10 more judges refuse to preside with fellow judge

Judge John Hlophe.
Judge John Hlophe.
Mary-Ann Palmer

In a united show of force, 10 Western Cape High Court judges - including senior members of the Bench - have refused to preside over matters with their colleague, Judge Mushtak Parker, saying he displayed a "lack of integrity" when giving his version of an incident involving the head of the division, Judge President John Hlophe.

In a letter to Hlophe on Monday, the 10 judges said Parker gave materially inconsistent accounts of an alleged assault on him by the judge president himself.

Parker allegedly conceded that "soon after" the alleged assault, he realised the events might not have unfolded the way he originally perceived.

But this, the 10 judges say, is diametrically at odds with what he told his colleagues months after the incident, which he ended up putting in an affidavit he gave to a fellow judge for safekeeping.

READ | Western Cape judge won't work with fellow judge due to 'climate of untruthfulness'

Irreconcilable

"This apparent and serious lack of integrity on Parker J's part is irreconcilable with the judicial function, the more so, since we are often called upon to sit in judgment on the honesty and truthfulness of litigants and witnesses," the letter read.

"This being the case, we are not willing to sit with Parker J for the time being."

The signatories to the letter are Judge Dennis Davis, Judge Siraj Desai, Judge Shanaaz Meer, Judge Ashley Binns-Ward, Judge Pat Gamble, Judge Elize Steyn, Judge Lee Bozalek, Judge Owen Rogers, Judge Mark Sher and Judge Robert Henney.

Davis is also the judge president of the Competition Appeal Court and Meer is the judge president of the Land Claims Court. 

Refuse

The letter was sent after one of their colleagues, Judge André le Grange, who also refused to preside over matters along with Parker.

"My decision to recuse myself in matters where I am called upon to preside with Judge Parker was not taken lightly, but after deep reflection and in accordance with my own conscience," Le Grange said in a letter addressed to the Judge President on 11 March.

Le Grange's concerns were similar - that Parker gave conflicting versions about the alleged assault.

"Common sense dictates that both of them cannot be the truth. It is here that my ethical dilemma arises when called upon to preside in a matter with Judge Mushtak Parker. The prevailing climate of untruthfulness makes it simply untenable to dispense justice in accordance with my oath of office," he said in his letter to Hlophe.

News24 previously reported that Parker hit back at Le Grange in a letter of his own, calling his decision to recuse himself in matters over which he presided "contrived, purely opportunistic, and perhaps a cynical attempt to influence the proceedings involving the judge president which are currently before the Judicial Conduct Committee (JCC)".

Parker said that upon reflection, he realised the alleged altercation with Hlophe "may not have unfolded in the way that [he] initially perceived".

Emotional state

"This is quite understandable given my emotional state at the time. I therefore came to the firm but inescapable conclusion that a complaint of my nature in this regard, will be both inappropriate and unnecessary," he said.

In January, Deputy Judge President Patricia Goliath lodged a 14-page gross misconduct complaint against Hlophe, accusing him of compromising the proper functioning of the Western Cape High Court.

Hlophe later dismissed the allegations.

READ | Patricia Goliath vs John Hlophe: Scathing complaint lodged against the Cape's most senior judge…by his deputy

Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo referred both complaints to the JCC, News24 previously reported.

It was in Goliath's complaint that the assault allegations involving Parker were first mentioned, although Parker was not named.

His name later surfaced in the media.

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