Judge Hlophe saga continues
Judge John Hlophe's time on the bench has been fraught with controversy, shake-ups and drama.
But the Western Cape judge president is ready for anything - including the latest finding by the Judicial Conduct Committee to refer to a tribunal a complaint lodged against him by Constitutional Court judges.
Yesterday, the conduct committee, a subcommittee of the Judicial Service Commission, announced that if Hlophe is found guilty of misconduct he could be impeached.
But Hlophe's lawyer, Barnabas Xulu, says they are ready to put up a fight.
Xulu told the Mail& Guardian yesterday he did not believe the complaint, made in 2008, could be dealt with "retrospectively" using new legislation.
The Hlophe saga started when the Constitutional Court justices claimed he had tried to influence two justices to rule in favour of President Jacob Zuma who was facing corruption charges then.
The Cape Town judge hit back by claiming - among other things - that the justices infringed on his rights when they made the complaint public before taking their grievance to the JSC. In 2009, the JSC cleared Hlophe of wrongdoing.
Last year, the Supreme Court of Appeal dismissed the JSC's decision.
It ruled that the commission should determine whether Hlophe was guilty of misconduct.
Legal advocacy group Freedom Under Law entered the fray, filing a complaint of gross misconduct against Hlophe with the JSC.
In its application, the group, led by retired judge Johann Kriegler, accused Hlophe of having brought the justice system into disrepute when he made "scandalous public utterances" about the Constitutional Court judges.
The Judicial Conduct Committee found that the complaint lodged by the Constitutional Court justices "if established, would prima facie indicate gross misconduct which may lead to impeachment".
Therefore it recommended to the JSC that a tribunal should investigate.
Asked to comment on the decision, Hlophe's lawyer Xulu said: "[The complaint] has been with us for many years now . but we will deal with it."
The conduct committee dismissed Freedom Under Law's application.
"The committee accepted that some of the utterances made by Judge Hlophe in the course of the proceedings that followed upon the laying of the complaint by the judges of the Constitutional Court will, if established, indicate gross misconduct on the part of the judge.
"However, the committee considered the circumstances under which the utterances were made and came to the conclusion that . it is not likely that such misconduct would justify impeachment," it said.
Xulu described this decision as a "bold step".
Kriegler said the advocacy group was "gratified" that years of effort in regard to Hlophe's conduct "have borne fruit".
"We respectfully welcome the view of the Judicial Conduct Committee that the complaint by the justices of the Constitutional Court against Judge President Hlophe may constitute gross misconduct warranting impeachment," said Kriegler.
"We have noted the committee's decision that for technical reasons unrelated to the merits of Freedom Under Law's complaint, the complaint cannot proceed."