Quote of the week

Both the constructive disagreement intrinsic to science and the adversarial scrutiny necessary to politics disappear in this invocation of science as the ultimate authority – this trick will become familiar in the coming months. An extraordinary emergency requires extraordinary powers; no one disagrees with that. But it is politics, not science, which grants these powers legitimacy. How long will they endure?

James Butler
London Review of Books
4 June 2008

Constitutional Court lambasted for Hlophe complaint

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.

Money quote:

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.

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