EDITORIAL | Hlophe should have benched himself
He should not be presiding while a cloud hangs over his head. After all, a judge’s ethics must be unquestionable
Nearly 14 years after Western Cape judge president John Hlophe stepped into former Constitutional Court judge Bess Nkabinde’s chambers late in April 2008 for a discussion about Jacob Zuma and “privilege”, South Africans can be forgiven for having lost track of a matter that should have made regular headlines. It is a saga that goes to the heart of our democracy: judicial independence.
Hlophe was back in the high court in Johannesburg on Monday, the latest chapter in a protracted battle to save his career. He has been criticised for using “Stalingrad” tactics, but to be fair, not all the postponements have been his fault. However, the causes of the delays do not change the disconcerting fact that he still holds a senior judicial position despite several decisions against him. This includes a Judicial Conduct Tribunal (JCT) finding that he breached section 165 of the constitution — the provision protecting judicial independence.
The Hlophe matter is based on a complaint that he tried to influence justices Nkabinde and Chris Jafta on a matter before the Constitutional Court. The case revolved around arms deal-related corruption charges against Zuma, who was at the time in pursuit of the highest office. It was an incredibly serious allegation involving a top judge, the apex court and a senior politician who was on his way to becoming president of the country. ..