Sobering week coming for Motata as tribunal gets under way

12 January 2018 - 12:28
By Ernest Mabuza
 Judge Nkola Motata at the Johannesburg High Court. File photo.
Image: Gallo Images/Sowetan/Veli Nhlapo Judge Nkola Motata at the Johannesburg High Court. File photo.

Complaints of judicial misconduct are finally going to be heard against retired Judge Nkola Motata who was convicted of drunk driving after crashing into a wall.

A tribunal convened by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) will probe complaints that he used racist language at the crash scene and breached judicial ethics by putting an untrue defence before the court during his drunk driving trial.

The hearing will begin on Wednesday.

Motata crashed his Jaguar into the wall of a home in Hurlingham‚ Johannesburg‚ in the early hours of January 6 2007. He was alleged to have made racist comments at the scene of the accident.

Following his conviction in 2009 and a fine‚ two complaints were laid against him - one by minority rights group AfriForum and another by senior counsel Gerrit Pretorius.

AfriForum complained that his comments at the scene were racist‚ while Pretorius said he had breached judicial ethics by presenting a defence that he knew to be untrue.

Pretorius complained that Motata’s counsel put an untrue version to witnesses - that he was not drunk.

When a complaint is received by the JSC‚ it is referred to the Judicial Conduct Committee. If the committee deems a complaint may warrant impeachment‚ a Judicial Conduct Tribunal is convened.

In Motata’s case‚ the Judicial Conduct Committee recommended to the JSC in March 2013 that a Judicial Conduct Tribunal be convened to deal with the complaints. A complaint of judicial misconduct could result in the impeachment of Motata.

Motata was supposed to appear before the tribunal in June 2013‚ but the proceedings were postponed indefinitely when he challenged the constitutionality of the tribunal.

The High Court in Pretoria dismissed his application in December 2016. The Constitutional Court also dismissed his application for leave to appeal as there was no quorum of judges to hear the matter.

Even though Motata retired last year‚ judges on retirement are paid for life and get all the benefits associated with being a judge.

If a tribunal finds that a judge should be impeached‚ it refers the finding to the National Assembly‚ which must have a two-thirds majority vote‚ to be sanctioned by the president. That goes with losing a salary‚ allowances and all benefits.

JSC secretary Sello Chiloane said the tribunal would sit for three days. Another tribunal to probe complaints of misconduct against Western Cape Judge President John Hlophe would go ahead soon‚ said Chiloane.

Constitutional Court judges lodged a complaint against Hlophe in 2008 for allegedly approaching two of their members in an improper attempt to influence the court’s pending judgment in one or more cases. The cases related to a decision on search and seizure raids carried out by the now defunct Scorpions on properties of President Jacob Zuma and French arms manufacturer Thint.

In 2013‚ the tribunal established to investigate complaints against Hlophe was postponed indefinitely following a challenge to its powers by two of the complainant judges‚ Justices Bess Nkabinde and Chris Jafta.

The two justices contended that there was no valid complaint before the tribunal that could be investigated. The High Court‚ Supreme Court of Appeal and Constitutional Court dismissed the points raised by the two judges.

Chiloane said a meeting would be held by the tribunal next month to decide on the way forward in the Hlophe case.