Judge John Hlophe

Western Cape Judge President John Hlophe. Photo: AFP

13-years on, Judge President Hlophe found guilty of gross misconduct

Western Cape Judge President John Hlophe was found guilty of trying to sway two Constitutional Court judges back in 2008.

Judge John Hlophe

Western Cape Judge President John Hlophe. Photo: AFP

After persistent delays and postponements spanning over 13-years, South Africa’s Judicial Conduct Tribunal has finally determined that Western Cape Judge President John Hlophe is guilty of attempting to sway two Constitutional Court judges to rule in favour of former President Jacob Zuma in his 2008 challenge against the seizure of nearly 100 000 documents now being used as evidence against him. 

The Tribunal, which was headed by the retired Judge Joop Labuschagne, as well as Judge Tati Makgoka, a Judge of the Supreme Court of Appeal, and Nishani Pather, a practising attorney, unanimously concluded that after over a decade of back-and-forth testimony and challenges, Hlophe was guilty of gross misconduct as envisaged in section 177 of the Constitution.

Hlophe ‘threatened the integrity of the ConCourt’ 

Hlophe was accused in 2008 of trying to convince judges Chis Jaftha and Bess Nkabinde to violate the terms of their office and rule in favour of Zuma as he took on the Scorpions (now the Hawks) after they seized some 93 000 documents relating to allegations of corruption. 

Both Jaftha and Nkabinde testified that Hlophe had acted improperly, but persistent challenges to evidence submissions and claims of persecution led to the case being perpetually delayed as Hlophe continued in his role at the head of the Western Cape’s judiciary. 

In its report, released on Saturday 10 April 2020, the Tribunal “unanimously found that on an objective and proper consideration of the facts and probabilities”:

  • Judge President Hlophe’s conduct breached the provision of section 165 of the Constitution in that he improperly attempted to influence the two Justices of the Constitutional Court to violate their oaths of office;
  • His conduct seriously threatened and interfered with the independence, impartiality, dignity and effectiveness of the Constitutional Court; and
  • His conduct threatened public confidence in the judicial system.

JSC to review findings  

The Chairperson of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) will now receive the report and determine the next course of action, which would likely see impeachment processes instigated against Hlophe. 

Further probes against Hlophe have been demanded by various judicial institutions, with the Judge President also implicated in accusations of misconduct relating to Deputy President of the Western Cape High Court, Patricia Goliath, who filed a complaint against him in January 2020.