If Hlophe tried to influence me I would report him, says judge hopeful
Matthew Francis has known Western Cape judge president for 30 years
Judicial Service commissioners interviewing the first candidate for a judge’s seat in the Western Cape division of the high court used the interview on Friday to address pressing issues surrounding the province's embattled judge president, John Hlophe.
Hlophe, who is among the commissioners, listened while attorney Matthew Francis, who has been in practice for 28 years, was questioned about the independence of the judiciary and how he would handle the existing conflict between Hlophe and his deputy, Patricia Goliath.
This as Hlophe has his own legal battles hanging over him following a damning Judicial Commission Tribunal finding last week that he was guilty of misconduct for trying to influence two Constitutional Court judges in cases relating to former president Jacob Zuma.
Advocate Jane Cane SC asked Francis: “Give us an indication of how you would face the challenges, if you’re appointed, of there being hostility inter alia between the judge president and the deputy judge president of the Western Cape High Court.”
Francis painted a picture that things were not that bad in the division, signalling the wheels of justice were turning uninterrupted.
“There are processes in place and I understand are unfolding that will deal with the situation, but having acted in the division for the last two years, if you weren’t actively participating you would think the division is about to crumble, but that is not the case,” he said.
“There is almost a shrill hysteria about the division. The division operates like any other division. Cases are dealt with timeously.
“I have never had difficulty at all in fulfilling my duties or functions and the courts are running effectively. Perhaps some of the detractors need to come and visit the court.
“The courts aren’t about to crumble, from my experience.”
Cane put a scenario to Francis to ask what he would do if he were presiding on a matter and was approached by a judge who was not part of the case but gave their input on a preference they may have on the outcomes of the case.
“I would like to know how you would react to the case if faced with such conduct,” Cane asked.
My experience says there is no difficulty in discussing cases with judges. As an acting judge myself, I found great comfort in being able to approach fellow judges and toss around ideas and perhaps talk about matters.Advocate Matthew Francis
“Judges take an oath to act independently and to dispense justice without fear or favour. If someone approaches me, it all depends on what the approach is. If it’s an obvious approach of ‘you will determine this matter in a particular way’, then obviously I would be offended and would take the necessary steps to refer it to the Judicial Service Commission (JSC),” said Francis.
“A lot depends on context and we know context matters. My experience says there is no difficulty in discussing cases with judges. As an acting judge myself, I found great comfort in being able to approach fellow judges and toss around ideas and perhaps talk about matters.
“Talking about a matter and determining and deciding on a matter are two totally different things.”
Earlier, Hlophe had disclosed to the commission that he had known Francis for about 30 years, adding that he had also lectured him. He also sang Francis's praises, saying he was one of the best students he had seen.
It was this disclosure of their long-standing relationship that seemed to bring Francis under intense scrutiny.
Commissioner Julius Malema, leader of the EFF, asked Francis: “Given your relationship and long history with the judge president, if he comes to you and says ‘you are going to decide this matter in this way’, what will you do about it?”
“I would report the matter to the JSC. I wouldn’t have any hesitation on that. But as I said, context matters,” said Francis.
He is one of seven candidates who are being interviewed for two vacancies within the province’s court division.
The interviews continue.
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