Quote of the week

An ‘important purpose of section 34 [of the Constitution] is to guarantee the protection of the judicial process to persons who have disputes that can be resolved by law’ and that the right of access to court is ‘foundational to the stability of an orderly society. It ensures the peaceful, regulated and institutionalised mechanisms to resolve disputes, without resorting to self-help. The right of access to court is a bulwark against vigilantism, and the chaos and anarchy which it causes. Construed in this context of the rule of law and the principle against self-help in particular, access to court is indeed of cardinal importance’.The right guaranteed s34 would be rendered meaningless if court orders could be ignored with impunity:the underlying purposes of the right — and particularly that of avoidance of self-help — would be undermined if litigants could decide which orders they wished to obey and which they wished to ignore.

Plasket AJ
Victoria Park Ratepayers' Association v Greyvenouw CC and others (511/03) [2003] ZAECHC 19 (11 April 2003)
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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