LAWYERS SLAM mEDIA

THE media was severely criticised for its reporting on the complaint against Cape Judge President John Hlophe in the South Gauteng high court in Johannesburg yesterday.

THE media was severely criticised for its reporting on the complaint against Cape Judge President John Hlophe in the South Gauteng high court in Johannesburg yesterday.

Various media houses are applying for the newly formed subcommittee of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) to conduct its new preliminary inquiry into the complaint against Hlophe in public.

JSC lawyer Bashir Valli asked: "Where do they acquire such a right, my lord?"

Earlier, lawyers for the media companies argued that the matter had been public already, there was significant public interest and the previous JSC committee had invited submissions from the media to motivate why they should be present.

But Valli said: "They are not a party to proceedings. It doesn't give anybody the right to get involved with the affairs of the JSC. They have absolutely no rights."

He said not even the judges who laid the complaint had the right to be present. Their lawyers had, but could not speak.

He rejected the submission that the media had rights because of the history of the case.

"They are not complainants, not witnesses, they are not any part of the complaint," Valli said.

The new JSC members cannot be expected to just know all the details of the case and are entitled to a preliminary inquiry since they started afresh with the complaint.

He said the members' only knowledge could be based on what they had read in newspapers.

Turning to the reporters in the public gallery, he said: "A press that is not objective, my lord, a press that has an interest in presenting a particular colour ... a press that has only understood some or part of what has happened."

Judgment will be handed down tomorrow morning shortly before the inquiry is due to start.

Various media houses had asked the high court to set aside the JSC's decision to hold a preliminary investigation before deciding whether to proceed with a full inquiry into whether Hlophe tried to sway Constitutional Court judgments relating to President Jacob Zuma.

Earlier, a lawyer for the Mail & Guardian newspaper, Kate Hofmeyr, submitted there were no compelling grounds to proceed since the matter was already in the public domain.

The same court ruled last year, during the first round of hearings against Hlophe, laid by Constitutional Court judges, that the matter should be open to the public in the interests of transparency.

"I submit there is no validation for the JSC to have determined to keep the investigation closed," Hofmeyr said. - Sapa

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