Another impeachment blow for Hlophe as JSC rules on second tribunal

Patricia Goliath cleared in suspended Western Cape judge president’s counter-complaint against her

06 December 2023 - 17:19
By Franny Rabkin
Suspended Western Cape judge president John Hlophe faces a second possible impeachment. File image.
Image: BONGIWE GUMEDE Suspended Western Cape judge president John Hlophe faces a second possible impeachment. File image.

The Judicial Service Commission (JSC) has decided that Western Cape judge president John Hlophe should face a second judicial conduct tribunal for potentially impeachable misconduct — this time in relation to his bitter dispute with his deputy Patricia Goliath that led to a complaint and counter-complaint to the JSC in 2020.

Though Hlophe is already on suspension in relation to a previous finding of gross misconduct, the JSC has decided to recommend to President Cyril Ramaphosa that he also be suspended in relation to this complaint.

The JSC has, however, confirmed that it has cleared Goliath in Hlophe’s counter-complaint against her. TimesLIVE Premium reported this decision in October. The decisions to clear Goliath and that Hlophe should face a tribunal were made on September 29 at a meeting of the “small JSC” — the JSC when it sits without its MP commissioners.

The decision to recommend suspension for Hlophe came later, after a request for written representations that were to be submitted by November 8.

Goliath’s complaint against Hlophe listed a number of allegations, including that he had assaulted a colleague, judge Mushtak Parker in his chambers.

She also alleged that he had undermined her in her role as his deputy and involved his then-wife Gayaat Salie-Hlophe in the administration of the division, making other judges uneasy.

When she tried to address her concerns with him, he reacted aggressively, calling her a “piece of shit” and “rubbish”, Goliath said.

Hlophe has said Parker would deny the assault allegations and denied swearing at Goliath, saying their relationship of trust had broken down because she had meddled in his domestic affairs.

When Hlophe denied swearing at her, Goliath produced a recording of the conversation. Hlophe then said her secret recording of their conversations was undermining him.

The JSC’s decisions came despite the judicial conduct committee’s appeal committee decision that there was a prima facie case of gross misconduct on both Hlophe’s and Goliath’s parts, and a recommendation that they both face a tribunal.

However, JCC decisions may be accepted or rejected by the small JSC and a tribunal may only be established if the small JSC says so.

A suspension of Hlophe now would be of no practical effect as he is already suspended in relation to a finding of gross misconduct over a previous complaint made in 2008.

On this finding, parliament’s justice committee voted to recommend his removal and the National Assembly’s programme committee decided that a special sitting will be convened in January for MPs to attend in person and vote.

His removal would require a two-thirds majority. But if he is not impeached — or if he were to litigate to prevent the vote — a further suspension on the basis of Goliath’s complaint would keep him out of office on an additional basis.