The Judicial Service Commission (JSC) on Wednesday voted for Western Cape Judge President John Hlophe to face impeachment.
Back in April, the Judicial Conduct Tribunal unanimously found Hlophe guilty of gross misconduct and improperly attempting to influence two Constitutional Court (ConCourt) judges.
This stemmed from a complaint lodged by 11 ConCourt judges against Hlophe more than 12 years ago, after justices Chris Jafta and Bess Nkabinde claimed he had approached them separately in their chambers to try to influence them to rule in favour of former president Jacob Zuma and French arms company, Thales, in a case relating to the validity of search and seizure operations in the arms deal investigation.
Should Hlophe be impeached, he will be the first judge since the advent of democracy to be removed from office.
The JSC gave Hlophe and the Constitutional Court until 3 September to make submissions on why it should not recommend Hlophe’s suspension to President Cyril Ramaphosa.
Adv Dali Mpofu said in a statement on behalf of the JSC: “The JSC took the decision to uphold the report and recommendations of the Judicial Conduct Tribunal handed down on 9 April 2021.
“In pursuance thereof and in terms of the provisions of the Constitution the matter will be referred to the National Assembly for its decision.”
He said the National Assembly and the parties will be furnished with copies of both the majority and minority views.
“In line with the principles of natural justice the JSC has invited the parties to show cause why it should or should not advise the President to suspend Judge President Hlophe pending the finalisation of the matter by the National Assembly,” reads the statement.
In terms of Section 177 of the Constitution which deals with the removal of judges, a judge can be impeached on grounds of incapacity, gross incompetence, or gross misconduct.
According to the JSC Act, the report on Hlophe will be referred to the JSC to decide whether the criteria for impeachment are met. If the commission agrees with the finding of the Judicial Conduct Tribunal that Hlophe is guilty of gross misconduct, the matter will be referred to the National Assembly for a vote.
In the National Assembly, two-thirds of MPs must vote in favour of impeachment, which would result in a judge being formally removed from office by the president.
If the House does not vote in favour of impeachment, the judge could be sanctioned through punitive measures that include an order for an apology, a reprimand, counselling or training.