Aspirant judge grilled over his relationship with Hlophe and family

Western Cape judge president John Hlophe's relationship with advocate Bryan Hack came under the spotlight at the Judicial Service Commission interviews on April 23 2021. File photo.
Western Cape judge president John Hlophe's relationship with advocate Bryan Hack came under the spotlight at the Judicial Service Commission interviews on April 23 2021. File photo.
Image: TREVOR SAMSON

The early part of the interviews for positions on the Western Cape bench seemed to revolve around the dark cloud hanging over judge president John Hlophe.

Veteran advocate Bryan Hack was asked to explain his relationship with the judge president and his wife, judge Gayaat Salie-Hlophe.

Before the Judicial Service Commission fired questions, Hlophe declared his relationship with Hack. He told fellow commissioners the advocate is a family friend and that he attended his wedding.

“I must disclose that I have known advocate Hack for a very long time,” said Hlophe.

“I first met him — I think it was in 1995 or 1996 — when he appeared before me. He came to chambers, as is customary, to introduce himself.

“Fast forward, I think it was about 12 years ago. I wrote to the Cape Bar, asking the bar to forward the names of possible candidates to come to act on the bench. His name was included on that list. That time I did not invite him because I had enough advocates to come and act.

“Fast forward, eight years ago, I met my wife who is a judge in the division, judge Salie-Hlophe. I subsequently discovered that she had been briefing advocate Bryan Hack for years and they knew each other.”

Hlophe said when he got married to his wife, Hack was at the ceremony.

“Six years later ... I married my wife and advocate Hack was present at the wedding, he was invited. By the way he is not the only one, there were other people present at the wedding. After that, through my wife, he became a family friend.”

Western Cape premier Alan Winde asked Hack a pointed question about his relationship with the Hlophes. Winde asked Hack to explain how he came to represent Salie-Hlophe in a maintenance matter while he was an acting judge.

“Advocate Hack, my question here really goes to give you an opportunity to talk about something that is in the public domain ... that is specifically around an issue where you appeared on behalf of judge Hlophe’s wife and the question of your being appointed as an acting judge at the same time and whether there was a contravention of ... the judicial code of conduct,” said Winde.

“We have deliberated on it and I want to hear what your feeling is.”

Hack gave a detailed response. He said he had written to the lawyers' body about the incident and believed Hlophe had obtained the necessary permission for him to represent Salie-Hlophe.

“I have written a letter to the Legal Practice Council as a response to the referral of the report of the incident to them,” he said.

“And I have set out, in detail, my response there. But not to take up too much time, just in brief summary: I, as the judge president has said, have been a friend of Gayaat Salie-Hlophe, the judge and the attorney before she became a judge for many years. 

“I have been a closely related friend. Without in any way wanting to be sentimental, I was at her home when her youngest daughter was two weeks old, and held her in my arms.”

He said after working closely with Salie-Hlophe he got to know about her personal challenges.

“Mrs Samuels, as she then was, who did brief me, was a strong attorney. She represented women in particular who were on the fringes of society, alternatively had suffered domestic violence or had been abused,” he said.  

“And she was strong in that regard. And I have her blessing to say this, that in the course of our relationship and working together she revealed to me that she, herself, was in an abusive relationship. And I believe, in fact I am certain, that she will verify that.”

Hack said he supported Salie-Hlophe and urged her to get out of the situation.

“Unfortunately, there has been an ongoing problem in that relationship, problems in regard to maintenance of the children. And I was actively involved throughout that process, particularly in litigation — in maintenance court, in magistrate's court and in the high court to ensure the maintenance of her children,” he said.

“I set it out in detail in my response. There was an order made in December last year. I participated in it. I was not acting at the time and I represented her. An order was made that would give her an opportunity to remedy what was breached of the court order.

“He [Salie-Hlophe’s former husband] did not, and then the matter was set down — and it was set down on a very urgent basis because her children were attending school. School has not been paid, they faced the risk of being prevented from going to school and I was asked, because I was so familiar with the history, whether I could attend the matter.”

He said Hlophe gave him the undertaking that it was in order for him to represent Salie-Hlophe. 

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