Hlophe denies claim he wanted to appoint judges favourable to Zuma

WC High Court Judge President says allegations ‘irresponsible and false’

'Irresponsible and false' - Hlophe denies claim he wanted to appoint judges favourable to Zuma

9 February 2020

The reference to former president Jacob Zuma in his deputy's complaint against him was an "irresponsible and manufactured false allegation made simply to spice up the gravity of the case against me", Western Cape High Court Judge President John Hlophe has charged.

In a 100-page affidavit sent to the chairperson of the Judicial Conduct Committee this week, Judge Hlophe said the allocation of the Earthlife Africa case in 2015 was based on the promotion of transformation and diversity.

Judge Patricia Goliath had in a complaint to the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) accused Judge Hlophe of wanting judges who were perceived as "favourably disposed" to Zuma to preside over the case.

She said Hlophe told her criticism against the former president about the nuclear deal was "unwarranted".

The government's nuclear procurement processes were eventually declared unlawful and set aside by Judge Lee Bozalek, with Judge Elizabeth Baartman concurring, in 2017.

According to Judge Hlophe, his deputy had taken an "unusual interest" in the Earthlife Africa case and suggested it be allocated to two white male judges.

"I considered her proposal, but I thought it important to establish a transformed and diverse bench. I suggested to her that it was not wise to allocate a case with significant issues involving government policy to two white male judges, one of whom I knew shared generally very strong views about government policy," his affidavit read.

"The judge concerned routinely engaged the public on policy matters involving the government. My comment was not that I wanted to allocate a case to people who would favour Zuma. I simply wanted to encourage her to diversity and consider transformation in the allocation of cases."

They had discussed the allocation and agreed on one white and one black woman judge, he said.

"My concerns had nothing to do with former president Zuma. It had everything to do with the fact that I needed to constitute a transformed and diverse bench in which the responsibility for determining the constitutionality of a critical government policy was not left in the hands of two white males, one of whom I knew had very negative views about the government generally."

Judge Hlophe said his deputy's failure to lodge a complaint of judicial misconduct five years ago, "knowing what she believed she knew", demonstrated the "bad faith" with which the complaint was lodged.

"It is a malicious mischaracterisation of what took place between her and me five years ago. I was correct in requiring that a transformed bench be constituted to deal with this matter."

It is, however, not the first time that a complaint involving Zuma has been raised against Judge Hlophe.

News24 previously reported a complaint was laid by a full bench of the Constitutional Court after he allegedly approached justices Bess Nkabinde and Christopher Jafta to improperly influence them in a case involving the former president before the apex court.

A tribunal was set up at the recommendation of a subcommittee of the JSC in 2013.

It has not yet commenced.

On 15 January, Judge Goliath lodged a 14-page complaint against Judge Hlophe and his wife, Judge Gayaat Salie-Hlophe, accusing them of gross misconduct which she charged compromised the proper functioning of the highest court in the province.

Preferential treatment for his wife as well as assaulting and verbally abusing two judges were among the claims contained in the document.

She said a climate of fear and intimidation prevailed in the High Court, claiming that she was operating in an "unsafe, unhealthy and oppressive working environment".

Dismissing it as containing gossip, rumours and information "obtained from the grapevine", Judge Hlophe said through his lawyer, Barnabas Xulu, at the time he intended to show there was no merit to the complaint which, he argued, brought the administration of justice "into serious disrepute" based on irrelevant material and "vague and embarrassing" information.

On Sunday, Judge Goliath declined to comment, saying the matter was "now in the capable hands of the JSC".