The FW de Klerk Foundation welcomes the decision by President Cyril Ramaphosa to suspend Western Cape Judge President John Hlophe with immediate effect due to gross misconduct and his breach of section 165 of the Constitution.

In May 2008, 11 justices of the Constitutional Court lodged a complaint with the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) against Judge President Hlophe for his improper attempt to influence the outcome of certain cases pending before the Constitutional Court in favour of former President Jacob Zuma.

On 25 August 2021, the Judicial Service Commission found that Judge Hlophe was guilty of gross misconduct arising from a number of charges. According to a statement by the Presidency,The Judicial Conduct Tribunal established that Judge Hlophe’s behaviour seriously threatened and interfered with the independence, impartiality, dignity, and effectiveness of the Constitutional Court and further undermined public confidence in the judicial system. The JSC has referred the matter to parliament for the National Assembly to institute impeachment proceedings against Judge President Hlophe.”

Despite the JSC’s finding, Judge Hlophe was permitted to continue with his important duties as Judge President of the Western Cape pending the outcome of his legal challenge against the JSC’s finding. On 5 May 2022, a full bench of the Gauteng High Court dismissed his application. Yet, despite the judgment, Judge Hlophe continued for the following five months to act as Judge President until President Ramaphosa’s decision last week to suspend him.

His continuing role in the most important judicial office in the Western Cape became even more unsupportable following a speech he made to the Black Lawyers Association in Durban at the end of November. In his speech, he said that “white colonisers continued to own the majority of South Africa’s land”. He suggested that “the only way to get it back from ‘thieves’ was through nationalisation”. He told his audience that they should remind their children at least three times a day that their land was stolen and point to the “thieves”.

While it is not comprehensible why it took more than 14 years to suspend Judge Hlophe, the Foundation appreciates the fact that the recommendations of the recent JSC report have now, at last, been followed and acted on.

The suspension of Judge President Hlophe sends a clear message – to uphold the Constitution as well as to respect and protect the independence, impartiality, dignity, and effectiveness of our judiciary. The Foundation trusts that this important decision will help to restore public confidence in the judicial system.