By Lungani Zungu
John Hlophe’s high-flying decades-long legal career came crashing down after President Cyril Ramaphosa suspended him as the Western Cape Judge President on Wednesday.
Hlophe, who is originally from KwaZulu-Natal, has been mired in legal troubles ever since facing an accusation of gross misconduct in 2008 while on the bench.
While the suspension is with immediate effect, Hlophe will be allowed to complete all cases he heard and hand down all reserved judgements.
In a statement, the presidency said Hlophe’s suspension came after the advice of the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) and in terms of section 177(3) of the Constitution.
The JSC report on Hlophe’s fate was handed over to Ramaphosa on 27 July.
However, the presidency said due to the long history and complexity of the matter, Ramaphosa took time to carefully consider all the permutations of the JSC recommendations, including obtaining guidance from an independent legal opinion.
“Section 177 (3) of the Constitution provides that the President, on the advice of the JSC, may suspend a judge who is the subject of a procedure in terms of subsection (1) that deals with the removal of a judge who is found guilty of gross misconduct.”
The statement added: “The Judicial Conduct Tribunal (JCT) concluded that Hlophe’s conduct breached the provisions of section 165 of the Constitution by improperly attempting to influence the two Justices of the Constitutional Court to violate their oaths of office.”
The JCT concluded that Hlophe’s behaviour seriously threatened and interfered with the independence, impartiality, dignity and effectiveness of the Constitutional Court, according to the presidency.
The JSC report paves the way for the National Assembly to institute impeachment proceedings against Hlophe.
A history of illegality
Hlophe’s legal troubles can be traced back to 14 years ago, in 2008, when he allegedly tried to influence two ConCourt Justices, Chris Jafta and Bess Nkabinde in the arms deal case involving former president Jacob Zuma.
Following this, 11 Justices of the Constitutional Court lodged a formal complaint with the JSC against Hlophe for what they termed an “improper attempt to influence the outcome of certain cases pending before the Constitutional Court in favour of Zuma.”
Last year, the Judicial Conduct Tribunal found that Hlophe “improperly attempted to influence judges.”
Hlophe has repeatedly pleaded his innocence.
Pictured above: John Hlophe
Image source: Judges Matter