bizos accused of bias over hlophe

Cape Judge President John Hlophe's lawyer has accused veteran lawyer George Bizos of bias over the way he handled the Judicial Service Commission's hearing against Hlophe.

Cape Judge President John Hlophe's lawyer has accused veteran lawyer George Bizos of bias over the way he handled the Judicial Service Commission's hearing against Hlophe.

Vuyani Ngalwana told the South Gauteng high court in Johannesburg yesterday that in a transcript of Hlophe's April hearing into alleged misconduct, Bizos is recorded as saying the JSC had spent too much money on the hearing to postpone it.

"Now, if that does not show unqualified bias, then I suppose the applicant has to swallow his constitutional rights and present himself before the JSC."

Bizos had been on the sidelines of Hlophe's application to have the JSC's proceedings against him stopped, but sat bolt upright when Ngalwana mentioned his name.

The hearing began in a Sandton hotel on April 1, but was postponed when Ngalwana submitted a sick note. When it reconvened four days later, Hlophe asked for a postponement but the JSC refused. It went ahead with the hearing, even though Ngalwana had withdrawn.

Bizos listened intently as Ngalwana said that according to a transcript, Bizos had suggested that the paucity of the JSC's financial resources weighed higher than the interests of justice.

Earlier, Ngalwana said former justice minister Enver Surty was also among the people in the commission who were biased against Hlophe, but added that not all of the commission's members were biased.

Surty's counsel Vas Soni also asked the court that a comment by Hlophe attributed to Surty be struck from the record.

Soni said Surty allegedly told Hlophe that the JSC hearing against him was politically motivated and he wanted this struck from the record to preserve his integrity. Soni added that on the question of bias, the JSC was not a decision-making body, but a recommending body.

Ultimately the final decision on Hlophe's fate lay with a vote in Parliament.

"That's a brilliant point, the JSC doesn't impeach," said Judge Nigel Willis. "At the end of the day Parliament decides."

Hlophe wants the JSC's hearing against him stopped on the grounds of bias and that the JSC was not properly constituted when Surty recused himself.

Lawyers for both the JSC and the Constitutional Court judges argued that yesterday's application was premature and that Hlophe should wait for the JSC's proceedings to be concluded, and then raise objections.

The Constitutional Court judges in particular wanted the matter concluded as it had been dragging on for almost a year.

But Ngalwana said he wanted either a reconstituted JSC or a panel of retired judges to form an arbitration forum.

Earlier in the case he said Hlophe wasn't trying to avoid being judged on whether he tried to interfere with a Constitutional Court ruling on President Jacob Zuma, but was exercising his rights.

Willis said that he would not hand down judgment on the matter yesterday.

He also invited the parties to make further e-mail submissions on the matter by Friday. - Sapa

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