The indefinite postponement of the tribunal to deal with complaints against the Western Cape Judge President, John Hlophe, has sparked outrage among legal experts, who believe his apparent delaying tactics are an abuse of the system, and a worrying reflection of the country’s judiciary.
The announcement of the delay comes after one member of the three-member tribunal set up to investigate complaints about Hlophe’s alleged misconduct, recused himself from the panel, bringing the case to a standstill.
The case has dragged on since May 2008, when the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) received a complaint that Hlophe attempted to influence the outcome of the corruption case against then president of the ANC, Jacob Zuma.
The matter was supposed to be heard yesterday, but Hlophe called for the tribunal member and Free State Judge Cagney Musi to recuse himself after allegations that he had made “disparaging” remarks about Hlophe.
Freedom Under Law chairperson Johann Kriegler called the latest delay extremely frustrating, saying Hlophe must have known who the members of the tribunal were, and should have called for the recusal months ago instead of at the last minute.
“It has been over eight years now that Judge Hlophe has shuffled and shuffled, ducked and dived, and the hearing has been delayed once again.
“It is wholly unacceptable in any case, but when it concerns a judge it is all the more unacceptable.
“Once again Judge Hlophe is evading justice. In the previous delays it would have been the faults of the system, but this is quite clearly a delay that was secured, if not engineered, by Judge Hlophe.
“The system unfortunately lends itself to abuse by people who don’t mind abusing it.”
Helen Suzman Foundation legal researcher Jane Weiner said the matter casts a worrying light on the disciplinary and impeachment procedures available when South African judges breach their constitutional duties.
“The fact that the Hlophe matter has dragged on for over 10 years is alarming.
“While the delay in this case can, in part, be attributed to a legislative challenge, the complaint, investigative and impeachment procedures for judges who hold such great power and responsibility need to be effective and efficient.
“The Hlophe matter seems to evidence a great failure of the procedural processes that are meant to uphold the impartiality and independence of the judicial authority.”