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.
On 24 August 2012 the Judicial Conduct Committee heard oral submissions made by Counsel representing Freedom Under Law and Judge President Hlophe and also considered written representations earlier made in connection with the complaint lodged by Freedom Under Law against Judge President Hlophe. The Committee also considered the written representations submitted on behalf of the judges of the Constitutional Court in connection with the complaint they had lodged against Judge President Hlophe. The Committee has now made its decision in the two matters as set out hereunder.
1) The complaint lodged by the Judges of the Constitutional Court
The Committee considered that this complaint, if established, will prima facie indicate gross misconduct which may lead to impeachment. Accordingly, the Committee has recommended to the Judicial Service Commission that a Tribunal be appointed to investigate it. In doing so, the Committee took into account interalia the clear pronouncements of the Supreme Court of Appeal that the Judicial Service Commission must make a determination whether the Judge President was guilty of grossmisconduct or not.
2) The Complaint lodged by Freedom Under Law
The Committee accepted that some of the utterances made by Judge President Hlophe in the course of the proceedings that followed upon the laying of the complaint by the judges of the Constitutional Court will, if established, indicate gross misconduct on the part of the judge. However, the Committee considered the circumstances under which the utterances were made and came to the conclusion that in view of such circumstances it is not likely that such misconduct would justify impeachment. In the circumstances, the proper course to follow would be to recommend in terms of section 16(4)(a) of the Judicial Service Act 9 of 1994 as amended that an enquiry be conducted in terms of section 17(2).This would, however, expose the judge to complaints and penalties that were not there when the complaint arose. This would violate the established rule of law against retrospective application of legislation.
This complaint could therefore not be proceeded with and was accordingly dismissed.BACK TO TOP