[Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro] possesses, however, few of his predecessor’s resources, lacking not just oil revenue but Chávez’s surplus of charisma, humour and political skill. Maduro, unable to end the crisis, has increasingly sided with the privileged classes against the masses; his security forces are regularly dispatched into barrios to repress militants under the guise of fighting crime. Having lost its majority in Congress, the government, fearing it can’t win at the polls the way Chávez did, cancelled gubernatorial elections that had been set for December last year (though they now appear to be on again). Maduro has convened an assembly to write a new constitution, supposedly with the objective of institutionalising the power of social movements, though it is unlikely to lessen the country’s polarisation.
Paul Ngobeni, a controversial University of Cape Town legal adviser (see here, here and here) has written an open letter to the judges of the Constitutional Court, lambasting them for their joint complaint against Judge President John Hlophe. The letter, published in the Business Day this morning, argues that the judges acted as a kangaroo court by making a joint complaint to the Judicial Services Commission.
In simple English, no matter how the remaining court members viewed the complainants’ credibility, these complainants had no business participating further in the matter in any judicial capacity whatsoever. From the moment they raised the matter, they were partisans in the controversy and the rest of the court was duty-bound to restrict or curtail their participation in it, in strict conformity with natural justice.
Furthermore, by adopting the said complaint as a consolidated “class action” complaint by all judges of the Constitutional Court (including those who were not contacted by Hlophe) you have effectively put judicial imprimatur on a one-sided complaint process and made findings you felt emboldened to publicise in the press, notwithstanding that the accused had not been afforded a due-process hearing.
The Hlophe case cried out for extreme caution aimed at ensuring the impartiality of the remaining uncontaminated pool of jurists. Sadly, your court threw these hallowed constitutional principles overboard and unleashed a media frenzy at Hlophe’s expense. In egregious violation of the principles of natural justice, Hlophe was denied an opportunity to respond — he was just tarred and feathered in the press as a corrupt judge.
In what court would Hlophe challenge the decision on procedural or constitutional grounds, given that the entire court has transformed itself into a complainant? You may have unleashed a tiger of a constitutional crisis that is destined to haunt us all for many years to come.
Interesting argument! I will try to respond to it later when I have some time. Needless to say, I do not agree with Mr Ngobeni who is no stranger to legal troubles. A bit like Judge President Hlophe himself.BACK TO TOP