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DA calls for judge John Hlophe to be suspended for 'capturing high court'

22 January 2020 - 16:01 By Aron Hyman
John Steenhuisen wants Western Cape high court judge president John Hlophe to be suspended.
John Steenhuisen wants Western Cape high court judge president John Hlophe to be suspended.
Image: Veli Nhlapo

"Judge John Hlophe has all but captured the Western Cape high court," claimed DA leader John Steenhuisen on Wednesday, calling for him to be suspended.

This follows allegations of gross misconduct and abuse of power by the Western Cape High Court judge president and his wife, judge Gayaat Salie-Hlophe.

Steenhuisen's call follows a complaint against the Western Cape high court judge president by his deputy, judge Patricia Goliath, to the Judicial Service Commission (JSC).

Goliath raised allegations of gross misconduct and abuse of power by Hlophe and his wife, judge Gayaat Salie-Hlophe. 

Steenhuisen said the allegations contained in the 13-page complaint contained enough prima facie evidence to warrant Hlophe's suspension pending an investigation by the JSC.

He claimed that Hlophe had a long history of alleged misconduct, "including the infamous 2008 complaint of gross misconduct against him by constitutional court judges after he allegedly approached several judges in an attempt to improperly influence the court to reach decisions favourable to former president Jacob Zuma."

"Twelve years later, Hlophe has not been held accountable and continues at the helm of the Western Cape high court, where he wields influence for political gain," he said.

Steenhuisen claimed the DA-run Western Cape has been a victim of Hlophe's interference in politically sensitive cases. 

"The DA has consistently held the view that Hlophe’s influencing of the appointment of judges to politically sensitive cases before the ... court is no coincidence. Rather, this interference is deliberate in order to influence the outcome of such cases," he said.

"On several occasions, the Western Cape government has been on the wrong end of legally questionable judgments, only later to have such judgments overturned on appeal to a higher court."

He listed several allegations raised by Goliath in her complaint, including:

  • allegations of nepotism and preferential treatment of his wife, Judge Salie-Hlophe;
  • a climate of fear and intimidation, with verbal and physical abuse of colleagues;
  • undue interference in the appointment of acting judges; and 
  • undue interference in the assignment of judges to particular cases in a bid to affect the findings.

"These allegations present a threat to the credibility and independence of the judiciary and must be treated with the seriousness they deserve," said Steenhuisen, calling for a swift investigation.

"The latest complaint laid against Hlophe by his deputy ... paints a grim picture of a court division that has all but been captured by Hlophe and his wife, judge Gayaat Salie-Hlophe."

Hlophe’s lawyers responded to the allegations by saying that Goliath’s complaint was based on “gossip”.

"It appears that [Goliath's] complaint has nothing to do with judicial misconduct, but a series of gossips, rumour-mongering and information allegedly obtained from the grapevine," said attorney Barnabas Xulu.

''[Goliath] obviously disagrees with the management of the division, which is solely reserved for [Hlophe]. It is well known that as a result of her disagreement with the management style of the division, there is tension between [them].

"Despite this tension though, it is a well-known fact that the Western Cape High Court Division remains one of the top-performing divisions in the country - well above the established norms and standards in the judiciary.

"It is unfortunate that the complaint, rather than raise legitimate issues that improve this performance, brings disrepute to the court. Our client will demonstrate ... that the complaint revealed a deeply worrying standard of judicial competence from a member of the bench in the position of the [deputy judge president]."

Steenhuisen said the courts were guardians of the constitution and "a bulwark against abuse of power by any individual".

"An independent judiciary underpins a capable democratic state and when a court’s independence is brought into question, such allegations must be dealt with swiftly and decisively."