Premier Alan Winde backs recommendation to suspend Hlophe

Western Cape premier Alan Winde has welcomed the Judicial Service Commission’s (JSC) recommendation to suspend Western Cape High Court Judge President John Hlophe.

Winde, who also voted in favour of the recommendation, said on Tuesday that he hopes President Cyril Ramaphosa would act swiftly.

“Given the serious nature of the finding of gross misconduct, I voted in favour of suspending him. This recommendation will now go to [President Cyril] Ramaphosa,” he said.

This after the JSC announced on Monday that it had made a recommendation for Ramaphosa to suspend Hlophe after it found him guilty of impeachable gross misconduct.

Hlophe is accused of courting controversy in 2018 when judges of the Constitutional Court reported to the JSC that he had approached [the then] justices Bess Nkabinde and Chris Jafta in an attempt to improperly influence them in a pending case regarding former president Jacob Zuma and French arms dealer Thint.

In April 2021, the Judicial Conduct Tribunal (JCT) found that Hlophe’s conduct breached section 165 of the constitution in that he improperly attempted to influence Nkabinde and Jafta to violate their oaths of office.

The JCT also found that Hlophe’s conduct threatened and interfered with the independence, impartiality, dignity, and effectiveness of the Constitutional Court and that it threatened public confidence in the judicial system.

The JCT further recommended that Hlophe should face impeachment, paving the way for the JSC to recommend that he be suspended.

Hlophe then approached the high court in Gauteng to challenge the JSC’s findings, however, in May the court dismissed his application and granted him leave to appeal the decision.

“Hlophe tried in vain to challenge his conviction, needlessly further drawing out this debacle. In May this year, the Gauteng high court, which heard his unsuccessful review application, ruled that the protracted litigation was probably unique in the history of our judiciary,” said Winde.

According to Winde, the matter must have already been concluded given the nature of the allegations against Hlophe. “[The] offence is very serious, and given how long this saga has been dragging on, I believe it must now be concluded.”

Reiterating the provincial government’s stance, Winde added: “The Western Cape government deeply respects the integrity of the country’s judicial system, and by recommending to suspend the judge president of the Western Cape High Court, we are sending a clear message: the impartiality and integrity of the justice system must be upheld at all costs because this is in the best interest of our country.”

The JSC’s recommendation comes at a controversial time when public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane is also being grilled at an impeachment inquiry to evaluate her fitness to hold office.

Mkhwebane was suspended a couple of days after sending 31 questions to Ramaphosa on the theft at his Phala Phala farm in Limpopo. It was expected that the matter would be taken to the Western Cape High Court where Hlophe would be presiding over it.

Now Hlophe’s fate lies in Ramaphosa’s hands and it is not clear if he will take the bait.

Meanwhile, DA shadow minister of justice and constitutional development, Glynnis Breytenbach, said the suspension should be immediate.

Breytenbach said the party is calling on Ramaphosa to suspend the embattled judge immediately, adding that the DA had always maintained that Hlophe was not fit for the job.

In a statement on Tuesday, Breytenbach said: “The DA calls on president Ramaphosa to immediately suspend Western Cape High Court Judge President John Hlophe on the recommendation of the Judicial Service Commission.

“Judge Hlophe has tainted the judicial system for over a decade. The president ought to waste no further time in taking his decision. The suspension of judge Hlophe is long overdue and this debacle has damaged the credibility of the judiciary and the JSC.

“The finding of misconduct by the JSC against judge Hlophe affirmed the 12-year-long position of the DA that judge Hlophe was not fit and proper to lead the Western Cape High Court.”

Also read: Hlophe’s fate now in Ramaphosa’s hands after JSC recommends his suspension

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