JSC decision on Hlophe/Goliath tribunal delayed again

JSC meeting “identified an important administrative issue that must be sorted out"

Suspended Western Cape High Court judge president John Hlophe.
Suspended Western Cape High Court judge president John Hlophe.

The Judicial Service Commission (JSC) “did not finish the discussion” on whether to establish a tribunal to investigate potentially impeachable conduct by Western Cape judge president John Hlophe on Friday, said spokesperson Sesi Baloyi SC.  

The commission was expected to finally reach a decision on whether to confirm a recommendation made in September last year by the appeals committee of the Judicial Conduct Committee that the two top judges of the Western Cape division be investigated for their conduct in relation to complaints they made against each other in January 2020. 

The dispute between Hlophe and his deputy Patricia Goliath, which pulled in at least 10 other judges of the division, has remained unresolved for more than three years.  

If the JSC had endorsed the recommendation of a tribunal for both judges, it would have also been required, under the JSC Act, to decide whether to recommend to President Cyril Ramaphosa that the two judges be suspended in the meantime. 

Though Hlophe has been suspended on an earlier unrelated complaint, Goliath remains on the bench and is its acting judge president.   

In October last year, the JSC acknowledged that the matter was “inherently urgent”. But meetings to decide on a tribunal have, since then, been postponed. A meeting scheduled for March was postponed because of the “sudden unavailability of commissioners due to work”.  

This time, Baloyi said the meeting “identified an important administrative issue that must be sorted out before we finalise the matter". This was “being addressed urgently and we will reconvene when that is sorted out,” said Baloyi. She would not be drawn on what the administrative matter was. 

The dispute between Hlophe and Goliath emerged in the public domain in January 2020 when Goliath made a complaint to the Judicial Conduct Committee with a number of allegations against the judge president including that he had assaulted his colleague, judge Mushtak Parker, in his chambers.  

It later emerged that Parker had said that, at the time of the assault, Hlophe had accused him of flirting with his then wife, judge Gayaat Salie-Hlophe.   

Goliath also alleged Hlophe involved Salie-Hlophe in the court’s administration — making the other judges uneasy. When she tried to address her concerns with him, he reacted aggressively, calling her a “piece of shit” and “rubbish”, Goliath said.  

Hlophe said Parker would deny the assault. He denied swearing at Goliath and said their relationship of trust had broken down because she had meddled in his domestic affairs.   

Hlophe accused Goliath of incompetence, lying and racism, saying she had called him an ugly old man, that she had referred to Africans as “k*****tjies” and that she had told Salie-Hlophe to drop his black surname.  

Former chief justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, as chair of the JCC, dismissed Hlophe’s complaint against Goliath but said Hlophe should face a tribunal for his part in the affair.  

Hlophe appealed in August 2020 and the appeals committee differed with Mogoeng, saying in September last year that both Hlophe and Goliath’s conduct warranted investigation for impeachable conduct.  

“If the allegations of racism against the DJP [Goliath] were established, including the allegation that the DJP referred to some judges as ‘k*****tjies’ or that the JP [Hlophe] and Salie-Hlophe lied in imputing the allegations to the DJP, gross misconduct could be proved either way,” said the JCC’s appeals committee.  

The JSC must now decide whether to confirm the appeal committee’s recommendation. 

The commission was however able to come to a decision on whether to establish tribunals into gross misconduct allegations against two other judges: Gauteng high court judges Tshifhiwa Maumela and Nomonde Mngqibisa-Thusi. 

The Judicial Conduct Committee had recommended tribunals for both of them - to investigate potentially impeachable conduct related to long-outstanding judgments. 

In October last year, GroundUp reported that Gauteng judge president Dunstan Mlambo had lodged a complaint with the JSC against Mngqibisa-Thusi regarding a judgment that was 19 months overdue “and a number of other judgments reserved for long periods”. 

Baloyi said the commission had made decisions on whether to refer the two to the tribunal but she could not disclose the decision as the two were yet to be informed.  



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