Constitutional court faces another Hlophe minefield

17 06 2008
Note: for more on Joe Slovo, click here. For more on Judge Hlophe, click here.
Karyn Maughan
June 17 2008 at 06:10AM
Source: IOL

The Constitutional Court has been hit with another headache.
On Monday nearly all the justices from South Africa’s highest court spent hours in an extraordinary meeting, debating how to back up their explosive complaint against Cape Judge President John Hlophe.

Now it has emerged that those same justices will have to consider overturning or confirming Judge Hlophe’s order to evict thousands of Western Cape squatters.

The urgent and politically charged appeal against Judge Hlophe’s ruling, brought on behalf of thousands of Joe Slovo squatters, is scheduled to be heard on August 21.
It comes after the increasingly volatile conflict between the judge and the court over as yet undetailed allegations that he attempted to lobby two judges to make rulings in favour of Jacob Zuma.

The two justices in question, Bess Nkabinde and Acting Justice Chris Jafta, have distanced themselves from the Constitutional Court’s complaint and said they never intended to make any statements and had no plans to do so.

Their advocate, Reggie Tokota SC, however told The Star he doubted that they would have to be subpoenaed to give evidence to the Judicial Service Commission (JSC).

“I have not taken any instructions on this issue, but I do not believe that they would refuse to speak to the commission if they were invited to do so.”

“The JSC has not asked them to testify and they have not said they would not testify if asked to do so … so talk of subpoenas appears to be somewhat spiteful.”

Justices Nkabinde and Jafta have also indicated they would not have a problem with Chief Justice Pius Langa, or his deputy, Justice Dikgang Moseneke, telling the JSC about a discussion the judges had on the Hlophe issue.

The reluctance of the two to testify on Monday prompted the court’s remaining justices to hold an extraordinary public holiday meeting in Joburg, which started at 12.30pm and was still continuing at the time of going to press.

While the court has not confirmed whether it will on Tuesday produce any evidence to back up its allegations of gross misconduct against Judge Hlophe to the JSC, it is understood that many of the court’s judges do not want to abandon the claims.

JSC spokesperson Marumo Moerane on Monday told The Star that while the commission had not formally granted the Constitutional Court an extension to make its submissions against Judge Hlophe, after it failed to do so by its self-imposed Friday deadline, it was unlikely to refuse it the chance to do so.

Judge Hlophe, who was granted long leave on Wednesday, has slammed the Constitutional Court for publicising its allegations against him, saying that its media statement on the issue could not be taken lightly, “because in them is the genesis to a very serious process of removing me from the position that I held for almost 14 years”.

Meanwhile, it remains unclear how the court will handle the Joe Slovo appeal.

Judge Hlophe had ruled that the squatters be moved to temporary accommodation between March 17 and next January to make way for houses to be built as part of the government’s N2 Gateway project.

The eviction was halted when residents signalled their intention to appeal.



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