Mogoeng Mogoeng breaks silence on Western Cape high court's Goliath vs Hlophe saga

Chief justice Mogoeng Mogoeng's office has welcomed the Judicial Service Commission's assurance that it will expeditiously deal with the complaint against Western Cape high court judge president John Hlophe and his wife, judge Gayaat Salie-Hlophe.
Chief justice Mogoeng Mogoeng's office has welcomed the Judicial Service Commission's assurance that it will expeditiously deal with the complaint against Western Cape high court judge president John Hlophe and his wife, judge Gayaat Salie-Hlophe.
Image: Gallo Images / Foto24 / Mary-Ann Palmer

Western Cape high court judges have broken their silence on the controversy that has engulfed the court.

Deputy judge president Patricia Goliath has accused her boss, judge president John Hlophe, and his wife, judge Gayaat Salie-Hlophe, of gross misconduct.

Goliath said what was happening “compromises the proper functioning of our court, the concomitant imperatives of integrity and significantly, and severely, impinges on the court’s dignity”.

In her complaint, Goliath painted a picture of a couple running the court like a fiefdom.

In a statement from the office of the chief justice this week, the judges of the Cape Town high court welcomed the Judicial Service Commission’s (JSC's) assurance that it would deal with the complaint “without fear, favour or prejudice and as expeditiously as reasonably practicable”.

“For as long as the allegations remain unresolved, the confidence which the public is entitled to place in the integrity of the Western Cape bench will be impaired,” the statement said.

It also defended Western Cape high court judges’ silence on the matter.

Western Cape judge president John Hlophe and judge Gayaat Salie-Hlophe during their wedding in Cape Town in April 2015.
Western Cape judge president John Hlophe and judge Gayaat Salie-Hlophe during their wedding in Cape Town in April 2015.
Image: Sunday Times/Esa Alexander

“It has been suggested in the press that the judges of this division have remained silent through cowardice or complicity. That is emphatically not so.

“Given the procedure for investigating complaints against judges, the proper place for judges with relevant knowledge to speak is before the JCC (judicial conduct committee) and any judicial conduct tribunal that may be established.

“We can assure the public that we have always adjudicated, and will always adjudicate, cases allocated to us fearlessly and with absolute impartiality.”

Goliath said Salie-Hlophe was involved in selecting acting judges and accused the judge president of trying to influence the outcome of a nuclear case.

Western Cape deputy judge president Patricia Goliath.
Western Cape deputy judge president Patricia Goliath.
Image: judgesmatter.co.za

She said Hlophe had stripped her of her duties. Goliath also mentioned the couple’s alleged personal issues.

“I may mention that it appears not to be a salutary practice for the partner of a judge president to serve in the same division,” said in her complaint to the JSC last month.

“Hlophe … has accused me of not supporting him. I accept that on several occasions we had disagreements. I sought on those occasions to uphold and protect the constitution in keeping with my oath, especially when his conduct fell short of an acceptable standard. I refer to a few instances.”

Salie-Hlophe dismissed the claims against her as “palpably untruthful, at best can be called eloquently stated gossip, designed and orchestrated to ridicule me in the course of pursuing an agenda of destruction”.

She added: “It is inconceivable that a right-thinking person, particularly and least of all a fellow woman and judge, would bring into a public forum and in the course of a judicial complaint her interpretation and false narratives as to my personal life which have no bearing or place in any complaint to the JSC as or as to my work ethic.

“Her conduct in nonetheless having done so is egregious misconduct and mischief shielded as being in the interest of her constitutional obligations.”

 

Hlophe’s lawyer, Barnabas Xulu, dismissed the complaint as having “nothing to do with judicial misconduct but a series of gossips, rumour-mongering and information allegedly obtained from the grapevine”.

He added: “The (deputy judge president) obviously disagrees with the management of the division which is solely reserved for the (judge president). It is well known that as a result of her disagreement with the management style of the division, there is tension between the (two).

“Our client’s rights to file a response to the appropriate forum remains reserved, save to deny that (Goliath’s) complaint has any merit.”

NGO Freedom Under Law weighed in on the saga. In a statement, it said Hlophe had “gone on to plunge the judiciary in more sordid scandal and public disrepute than any judge” in the history of the Cape bench and called for his “urgent suspension”.

Its statement added: “The current head of the Western Cape high court is compromised. Until such a time as a proper investigation is completed and all consequential processes — which may include impeachment — are completed, judge president Hlophe cannot be allowed to exercise the powers of a judge.”

The JSC said it was regrettable that the complaint had been leaked to the media. The commission said it took an “unprecedented step of issuing a statement” after it was inundated with “requests by the media and the public to comment on the issue”.

It said its JCC, chaired by deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo, was handling the complaint.

“There is therefore no need for anyone to provide any unsolicited guidance on how the JCC should deal with complaints,” the JSC said.

Editor's note: This article has been amended to make clear that the statement from the office of the chief justice was issued on behalf of judges in the Western Cape high court, and not chief justice Mogoeng Mogoeng.

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