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More than a decade after legal proceedings against Judge John Hlophe began, the saga is drawing to a close. This particular case centres around John Hlophe’s attempts to persuade judges to find in favour of Jacob Zuma, when he challenged search warrants linked to corruption charges. A finding of gross misconduct has been presented by the Judicial Conduct Tribunal which will be reviewed by the Judicial Service Commission. If these two panels agree on the finding, a majority vote in the National Assembly would mean he can finally be removed. The wheels of justice have turned slowly but President Cyril Ramaphosa now has the power to suspend Hlophe, which as Paul Hoffman writes, is what the nation’s courts desperately need. – Melani Nathan
LETTER: Cyril Ramaphosa may now suspend John Hlophe, and he should
From Paul Hoffman*
If the JSC agrees with the findings made, removal proceedings in the National Assembly will commence.
The oft-quoted words of Winston Churchill uttered in a speech after the second battle of El Alamein in World War 2, come to mind now that a finding of gross misconduct has been made against Western Cape judge president John Hlophe: this is “the end of the beginning” of a legal saga that started in March 2008 when he sought to prevail upon a colleague to find for Jacob Zuma in a pending appeal, continued in April that year when a second colleague got the same treatment and became a complaint by the justices of the Constitutional Court against Hlophe as long ago as May 2008.
The 46-page finding of the Judicial Conduct Tribunal is rigorous, fair and damning of Hlophe, on his own version. Nevertheless, it is foreseeable that Hlophe will seek to set aside the decision on review. In the meantime, the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) will consider the issue with a view to formulating its own stance on the finding of gross misconduct that has been made against Hlophe in trenchant terms.
If the JSC agrees with the findings made, removal proceedings in the National Assembly will commence. Removal from office follows a vote in which at least two-thirds of members support the motion to remove.
In the meantime, the president may, on the advice of the JSC, suspend Hlophe; that advice should be given without the type of delay that has sadly characterised the matter since 2008. The reputation, effectiveness, dignity, and impartiality of the courts cry out for the suspension. If, as is his right, Hlophe chooses to litigate the outcomes against him, then strict case management with a view to speedy finalisation is indicated.
*Paul Hoffman SC is Director & Head of Projects at Accountability Now
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Cyril Ramaphosa: The Audio Biography
Listen to the story of Cyril Ramaphosa's rise to presidential power, narrated by our very own Alec Hogg.