Taxpayer spent more than R10m to impeach judge Hlophe, says Lamola

28 February 2024 - 19:23
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Former Western Cape judge president John Hlophe. File photo.
Former Western Cape judge president John Hlophe. File photo.
Image: Trevor Samson

The state has spent more than R10m in its 16-year legal battle against the now impeached Western Cape judge president John Hlophe.

Hlophe last week became the first judge in democratic South Africa to be impeached after the National Assembly overwhelmingly voted for his removal.

It is now up to President Cyril Ramaphosa to formally remove him as a judge.

Hlophe has been in a protracted legal battle since a complaint against him was laid in 2008 which has now culminated in his removal.

Justice and correctional minister Ronald Lamola on Wednesday said the state had spent more R10m on the matter.

“A total of R10,575,011.63 was paid in respect of judge president Hlophe’s personal litigation. An amount of R914,400 is still to be paid as there are disputes on invoices being addressed (spreadsheet of payments),” said Lamola.

Lamola disclosed this in a written response to questions from DA MP Glynnis Breytenbach.

Hlophe was impeached after the Judicial Service Commission found him guilty of gross misconduct when he tried to influence Constitutional Court judges Chris Jafta and Bess Nkabinde to decide matters in favour of the then-president Jacob Zuma in his arms deal case. 

Hlophe was accused of visiting several justices in 2008 and in one incident he uttered the famous words Sesithembele kinina”. Sixteen years after the complaint was laid against Hlophe, he was finally removed last week.

History was made in South Africa on Thursday when not only one but two judges were impeached for the first time. A staggering 305 MPs voted for Hlophe's removal, while 296 supported Motata’s removal.

During the parliamentary debate on the removal of the two judges, ANC MP Xola Nqola said the process was an exercise in accountability.

“It is about ensuring that the rule of law is respected by even those who wield power. It is about ensuring that people have faith in the judiciary. The judiciary cannot exist without the trust and confidence of the people. Judges must therefore be held accountable to legal and ethical standards,” he said.

Nqola said a fundamental aspect of judicial independence is impartiality, which is the idea that judges should interpret and apply the law with minds open to argument and free of bias.

Hlophe, like other judicial officers, took the judicial oath of office — swearing or solemnly affirming to uphold and protect the constitution, he added.

Breytenbach said Hlophe’s impeachment, or that of any other judge, had profound implications for judicial integrity in South Africa.

“It underscores the importance of upholding the highest ethical standards among judicial officers. It also sends a clear message that no-one, regardless of their position or influence, is above the law,” Breytenbach said.

“Moreover, it reaffirms the principle of judicial independence as a cornerstone of democracy and boldly underlines the principle of the rule of law.”

Additional reporting by Andisiwe Makinana


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